Brendan Canning gives us a smart, pleasurable pop record that's best experienced in the wee small hours of the night.
A late-night, homespun feeling prevails across the 10 songs that comprise Brendan Canning’s (Broken Social Scene) latest effort. Certain moments conjure images of Canning and his cohorts trying to keep the volume down so as not to wake the neighbors or summon suspicion that they’re up to something quite amusing. Other moments feel loud, proud and unapologetically rock ‘n’ roll. Through and through there’s a sometimes eerie, sometimes comforting fog of familiarity that wafts in over the tracks as well as a faint patina of the 1970s that reveals itself in several of the record’s best moments.
“Once I Was a Runner” imagines what might have become of Boz Scaggs had he come of age in a postpunk world. “Work Out in the Wash” is majestic, lush pop that calls to mind the sublime and eerie 1976 hit from the band Starbuck, “Moonlight Feels Right”. You can imagine this tune easing its way from the speakers of an AM radio in the heat of the summer sun when skin becomes bronzed and smiles are exchanged or in the deep, dark hours of the night when secrets are revealed and kisses are stolen. The horns are bright, the guitars soulful and your one momentary desire becomes to listen to the track again and again, hoping to prize its secrets loose, to make them your own. Canning crosses the streams of Latin music and exotica via the soft, smart “Keystone Dealers”, while “Hey Marika, Get Born” is wild, careening whimsy writ large. If it’s not the most perfect song on the album, it’s probably the most fun.
While flecks of the past find their way into much of the material, the past doesn’t preside over everything. The gorgeous, poignant “Sleeping Birds Like Lasers” touches on the glitch-y, blurpy and beepy pop of recent times. More importantly, the record isn’t trying to capture the zeitgeist of a bygone era. Instead, it’s a precise and focused set of songs that happens to evoke certain memories and vibes. And as good as the slower, more nuanced material can be, it’s the raucous ones that truly make the heart beat faster.
Witness the opening “Book It to Fresno” with its powerhouse drums, bong-rattling bass and Canning’s unmistakable voice carrying the track straight into your genes. It’s the kind of track you don’t forget and it announces the general, congenial tone of the record while also blowing your hair straight back. As good as it is, the subsequent “Vibration Walls” may very well be better. It cooks along steadily like a mid-period Wilco track, taking its time before taking to top speeds on the expressway of your skull. It’s the hooks, of course, and the hooks there and elsewhere are in ample supply. Even the closing “Baby’s Going Her Own Way”, which may seem like an off-the-cuff throwaway at first, proves impossible to forget, whether first listen of 15th.
If there’s a fault to be found with the record it may be that the middle of the record falls into a hazy, smoke-filled sameness. That sameness lifts over time, though, especially as one digs in with headphones and lets the record’s deepest mysteries unravel, moment by moment and beat by beat.