Canadian band Cinderpop is unquestionably a purveyor of pop music. It’s impossible to doubt. It can be seen in their photo on the back of their CD, Their Skies are Beautiful, shows the group quarantined from the remainder of the artwork by a hand-drawn bubble. Standing directly next to them is a small child with a camera up to his face. Still in doubt? Example song titles: “Bastian Cooper”, “Exquisite Day”, “Comes in Threes”, “Dear Miss Bliss”. These are the lighthearted song titles and carefree artistry of a dreamy pop band.
Cinderpop work best when they are writing and performing within pop parameters. They excel in their inventiveness and when they turn rock music on its head for their pop purposes. When they rely too heavily upon rock, the sound is less consistent. “Comes in Threes”, while featuring some good parts, suffers ultimately from a guitar tone that’s decidedly “alternative” when most of us have forgotten what the hell “alternative” is supposed to refer to. At times sounding like Fountains of Wayne, at times singing like Savage Garden, “Comes in Threes” cannot stand up to their excellent earlier songs.
A song like “Noon Star” is a mixed bag, as well. Some sections of it are amazing, while others remain dull or off-putting. “Upstream” is a sludgy mess that features a real trumpet (at least, according to the liner notes it’s real) and what can only be described as the worst-sounding synth trumpet ever created.
The good does definitely outweigh the inconsistent, however. The first two songs display the band’s range and make claims for some of the best pop songs of the year. “Bastian Cooper” forgoes the traditional pop guitar tones for a crunchy, beefy sound that would be more comfortable in early ’90s riff-rock. The riffing here supports beautiful dissonance on the chorus. More impressive is the song’s bridge (in fact, the bridges on many of these songs are astounding). It’s become too standard for a band to tack on an extra 30-second bit after the second chorus simply because they must. The bridge on “Bastian Cooper” is better than the rest of the song. It’s spine chilling.
The second track, “Exquisite Day”, stands in stark contrast to the opener. Where “Bastian” was more or less a straight-ahead rock song with pop melodies, “Exquisite” is a complex tune with a hard-to-pin-down drum beat and a melody that’s as surprising as it is catchy. Instead of the electric guitar riffing of the opener, “Exquisite” uses acoustic guitars. But like “Bastian”, the bridge stands as the best section of the song.
“Midnight” dares you not to like it. The melody in the chorus is off-kilter in a way that sounds grating upon first listen, but slowly becomes more acceptable as your mind anticipates the notes. “Dear Miss Bliss” utilizes synth strings and a real trumpet to blast an otherwise simple bluesy groove into pop bliss. The song builds momentum up through a, once again, perfect bridge. The verses and their unusual string arrangement are unique as well. Then, in a strange twist, the band that can’t write bad bridges writes a pedestrian, boring chorus for the beguilingly misspelled “Mishapen” (that’s misshapen, kids).
As mixed bags go, this is a great one. Pop music rarely receives the attention that Cinderpop lovingly give to this collection of songs. They clearly know what they’re doing, but they strangely can’t tell when they’ve strayed from their impressive formula.