Initial acclaim is a double-edged sword. A band with a debut as highly praised as Plants and Animals’ 2008 record, Parc Avenue, accepts this as a fact of life. Making a name for oneself in the wildlife-themed index of indie rock comes with the burden of increased expectations, ones that the Montreal trio’s successive two releases (2010’s La La Land and 2012’s The End of That) aimed to exceed, with varying degrees of success. After a four-year pause for reflection, though, the band is back as melodic, wistful, and alive with longing as ever.
“We Were One” opens the album on an expansive note, backed by Matthew Woodley’s precise drumming, as well as bracing, bare bones piano chords courtesy of Nicolas Basque. Throughout the track’s samsara revolutions and rapturous flights of melody, this rock-solid rhythm section provides the necessary ballast. “No Worries Gonna Find Us”, in contrast, ushers in a more contemplative tone, buoyed by uptempo drums and jangly guitars that touch the effervescent melancholy of Teenage Fanclub or Frightened Rabbit.
“Fata Morgana” is a fleeting brush with nostalgia before the heartfelt croon and rumbling surf guitar rhythms of “Stay”, while “All of the Time” showcases Warren Spicer’s affecting vocals, here achieving a kind of Thom Yorke ether-echo. Next, “So Many Nights” uses soulful keyboards and slinky bass to back up Spicer’s simple, plaintive lyrics. A standout on the album, the song builds to an ecstatic crescendo to the chanted refrain of “Your feet are heavy / carry on”.
Full of longing and regret under all the mellow strumming, “Flowers” makes great use of the contrast between upbeat music and aching nostalgia, underscored throughout by sustained violin tones. Likewise, “Je Voulais Te Dire” finds Spicer in a raw, Lou Reed-esque register, and his vulnerability is highlighted beautifully by polished production that places Basque’s emotive keyboard front and center. The track evolves through several sections and is interwoven with intricate emotional textures, making it one of the most complex and cathartic pieces on a record. These songs evoke days spent in calm reflection, detached from the throes of intense feelings by time or distance, but still aware of their pull, like the ache in a phantom limb. For instance, capturing a tone of fleeting celebration, Spicer muses in “Off the Water”: “I won’t always have the chance / to move you like water when we dance”.
“Johnny Is a Drummer” is a melancholic confection of layered guitars and swooning vocals, while “Pure Heart” ends Waltzed in from the Rumbling with the assertion that even though life can be hard, “these things can be worked on”. This line could act as a statement of purpose for Plants and Animals, who find the kernel of sorrow in every passing delight and never neglect to infuse failure with hope.
For all its sensitivity to the conflicting emotions that often coexist within us, Waltzed in from the Rumbling is, sonically, a deeply satisfying record. Understated but not weak, solid but never boring, the album proves that you don’t have to speak loudly to make yourself heard. Ambivalence never sounded so good.