Vancouver has its own little history of modern pop, and in the early days of post-Pavement humility, a generation of vulnerable, pale young singer-songwriters found their true audience. And so the noisy Pork Queen became Good Horsey who became the ultra-introspective Near Castlegar. Superconductor begat Zumpano who begat the New Pornographers, and the Gay. Destroyer's first CDs arrived just as enough Vancouverites began to appreciate the Mountain Goats. These are some of the local roots to P:ano's deliberately melancholy music, and why such a marked shyness of delivery is paired with such explicit structural eccentricities in their Gainsbourg-esque pop songs. Culturally, these are pretty great surroundings to help inspire tight, complex songwriting from our indie-rock hopefuls. With the bar already set so very high by the fact that two of the world's best pop composers live in the city -- Carl Wilson and Dan Bejar -- Vancouver musicians know not to skimp on the detail.
The certain potential heard in earlier P:ano albums is now completely grown. Their latest record The Den is a soothing lozenge of goodness. The band seems completely at ease, confident, and honest -- although less nakedly so. Where P:ano used to feel pretty bare, this album is all about the drapery. It's great to hear the band fully furnished. The Den is a spotless, richly embroidered hour of baroque touches and ever-undulating melodies. It's produced with a warmth that suggests an intimate acoustic space, and so you feel the closeness of the musicians to the songs they're playing, a kind of self-love that borders on navel-gazing. The opening track "Fucking Ugly Bouffant", is a particular surprise, with all this lugubrious energy being continually piled into a lush orchestral conclusion. How strange to sound so disenfranchised and yet pour so much heart in to the creation of art. And it's far from the gallant, ironic posing of Pulp. This is true blue. But it's the loneliness of the lyrics and Nick Krgovich's faint voice that validates the long hours of perfectionism you can hear in the orchestration of every track. This is a broken-up-sounding dude with a lot of time on his hands, and to prove it, the album sounds perfect.
P:ano's specific form of manic depression, with the manic side all manifesting itself in the production and technical skills, and the depressed side coming out in the lyrics and tempos of the songs, means the band fits in quite naturally alongside their big cousins Destroyer and the New Pornographers. But in actual sound and inspiration P:ano is more accurately aligned with another, older Canadian artist: Leonard Cohen. There is a shared pleasure in taking the jingle of a '50s pop song and slowing it way down. I think P:ano does it better than Cohen does, these days, at least. Songs like "After School Special" and "Across the Street, Desert Plants" are serious diamonds. In the years to come, I predict you're going make a lot of mix CDR's for friends that include one or both of those tracks. The Velvet Underground murmurs away in these tunes, too, but it feels filtered through the more direct influence of Yo La Tengo. It's in the brief and climactic blurts of noisy guitar and the pairing of male and female vocals, suicidal in their own unique ways, that this similarity is most evident. But a lot of the time, P:ano is doing something that is rewarding for its originality. Behind all the modest gestures, it's vastly obvious how much they invest in the music. For all P:ano's wistful demeanor, you can still tell they're an optimistic band at the core, and it's this optimism that makes you sure they're only going to keep getting better.