The Most Serene Republic: Underwater Cinematographer
The first Arts & Crafts signing without a member of Broken Social Scene delivers an intriguing debut album with influences worn conspicuously on its sleeve. However, it also includes some stunningly unpredictable moments.
About three years ago, and virtually out of nowhere, Broken Social Scene appeared like some refreshingly talented blip on the indie music radar. Until this rogue band of Canadians started popping up on so many "wish I'd heard of them last year" lists, it was no stretch to say that not many people (especially outside of Canada) had heard of Arts & Crafts Productions.
Now, a mere three years after the fact, BSS has been elevated to household name status in new rock circles, played massive festivals like Coachella, and has a highly anticipated new album set to drop in the fall. As such, Arts & Crafts has expanded somewhat, offering up releases from other bands such as Stars, Feist and Apostle of Hustle. Each has garnered its own respective heaps of critical praise, but each has also contained a member of BSS, as have all A&C artists. That is, until The Most Serene Republic.
This group, made up of six Toronto natives, boasts an unpredictable-yet-familiar sound, rooted in indie pop, but sprinkled with electronic beats and blips as well as other pleasantly unorthodox sounds. Sometimes the familiarity is a little much, such as the beginning of "Content Was Always My Favorite Colour", where the beat combined with frontman Adrian Jewett's fey, Gibbard-esque vocal stylings invites all too easy comparisons to The Postal Service. But it's in the unpredictability where The MSR really shines. From that moment of the unavoidable reference point, the song mutates, incorporating seemingly out of place acoustic guitar and handclaps. It's this volatile side of the group's sound that makes it stand out more. Unfortunately, it's this same element that is ignored too often throughout Underwater Cinematographer.
Choosing to lead by example rather than falling back on -- admittedly good -- influences is "Proposition 61". Acoustic guitar and hand percussion (snaps and claps this time) hold this track together while Jewett spits like a subtle indie rock MC weaned on the Dismemberment Plan instead of Definitive Jux. But not wanting to stop there, the song continues on to incorporate mixed vocal interplay, beat boxing and a shout-along climax of "She took a sad song made it sadder". Although the song should sound out of place, on an album that hops around stylistically like this one does, it makes perfect sense. In fact, the brash defiance of "Proposition 61" is a direction The MSR would be well-suited in pursuing.
Granted, pulling out the "this band is talented but needs to be more adventurous" card is something that can be said in criticism of many -- if not most -- bands making music in today's independent rock 'n' roll universe. But listening to a song like "(Oh) God" is enough to make a reviewer wonder if he's stumbled upon a collection of Death Cab for Cutie b-sides, not the latest Arts & Crafts joint.
Still, don't let that rating up there trick you into thinking The Most Serene Republic is just another mediocre indie rock group. Far from it, in fact. Although several of the tracks on Underwater Cinematographer lack a certain individuality, the remainder brim with creativity and the notion that there's something spectacular around the corner. In short, keep your eye on these six Canadians -- they're not showing all their cards, but whatever they've got up their collective sleeve is going to upset the rest of the people at the table.