After a seven-year hiatus, Land of Talk return with a rock album obsessed with mortality.
Getting older is a bust. As you age, expectations and responsibilities stare you down like a creaky old high school principal, except now you have to listen. More sinister and mysterious is the way of the flesh. Our body will eventually fail us, and there is nothing to stop it. This is not new, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t try to avoid it. Click a couple of tabs open and look around your browser, and you’re sure to find products and programs to fight aging. Canadian indie rock band Land of Talk’s new album,Life After Youth, focuses on aging, but the group takes a mature approach: acceptance.
Land of Talk burst into the indie rock world in 2006 with Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, sporting sturdy, efficient rock tunes led by Elizabeth Powell’s voice that was equal parts dream and spit. The album instantly set them up in the indie rock world, so much so that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon signed up to produce their second album, 2008’s Some Are Lakes, which showed a band growing with poise. In addition to the same muscular rock as before, the band showcased some versatility in the form of Fleetwood Mac-esque grooves and brooding ballads. For 2010’s Cloak and Cipher, Land of Talk recruited a slew of Canadian indie rockers, including members of Stars, Arcade Fire, and the Besnard Lakes, to create a lavish rock album that could be said to have had a little too much going on. Then the band just disappeared without explanation.
The seven years in between were revelatory for Powell. To begin with, a computer full of new demos was lost. Then her father suffered a stroke, so she hunkered down by his side to care for him. He inspired her to keep writing and keep performing, and eventually she got back on it. The lyrics sprang from this period, and are the better for it. Where many lyrics from their past albums were a little hazy in meaning, Powell has sharper focus here. “This Time” is the clearest example of Powell working through it all in words: “I don’t want to waste it this time / I don’t want to waste it, my life.” Later, on “Loving”, Powell sings, “Touch your body here. It’s going to get worse. You know you don’t live here", effectively bumming the listener out with a little shot of reality. Mortality is a commonly avoided topic, but not on this album. Throughout the rest of the record Powell continues to explore the pleasures and pains of living.
Powell fell in love with ambient and classical during her time away and says that it informed the making of the album, and this is apparent on a couple of tracks (“Inner Lover” being one). However, Life after Youth sees the band still using the guitar as its focal point. This time around though the thorny, percussive guitar of albums’ passed is combined with a reverb-soaked wash on occasion, and it’s a pleasant addition to the group’s tonal palette.
With an album title as direct as Life After Youth, the listener comes in with expectations. When the Menzingers released an album titled After the Party earlier this year, I had similar expectations: stories of the glories of youth. The Menzingers did just that, but Land of Talk isn’t interested. Elizabeth Powell is focused on acceptance. Life can be pretty dark, and we can be full of regret, but it can be pretty sweet as well, as stated in the closing track, “Macabre”: “if it wasn't for this life I’d leave it, but oh I’d miss the sky and the sea.” Getting old sucks, but we will always have our earthly pleasures.