Raising the Fawn: Sleight of Hand

The latest album by one of Canada's most underrated bands artfully balances the familiar with the ambitious.

Raising the Fawn

Sleight of Hand

Label: Sonic Unyon
US Release Date: 2007-07-17
UK Release Date: Available as import

For all the accolades every Broken Social Scene member receives whenever they put out a new record on their own, John Crossingham's Raising the Fawn never seems to get its due. Despite having released five CDs, including two excellent discs in 2004's The North Sea and last year's The Maginot Line, those who flock to hear the latest from Feist, Metric, Stars, Jason Collett, Do Make Say Think, Apostle of Hustle, and Kevin Drew seem oblivious to Crossingham's own band. Whether it's the trio's unassuming nature, their somewhat lofty arrangements (which often extend close to the ten-minute mark in a live setting), the fact that they're not on a label as stylish as Arts & Crafts, or just crummy luck, Raising the Fawn continue to be perennial underdogs, not only in indie rock circles as a whole, but even in their native Canada.

But Crossingham and his bandmates, bassist Scott Remila and drummer Dylan Green, remain unfazed by the continued lack of recognition outside a small cadre of fans and admiring critics, and continue to churn out album after pleasing album, and their latest, Sleight of Hand continues the band's graceful musical evolution, while at the same time displaying the audacity to toss a few new things into the mix. As opposed to the last two albums, which were painstakingly fussed over for lengthy periods, the new disc was recorded in a week, and with producer Ian Blurton at the helm, who brings his trademark robust rock sound to the proceedings, it has a much more immediate, urgent feel, while at the same time never shying away from the band's more introspective side.

More than anything, Sleight of Hand exudes a warmth that Raising the Fawn's often dour compositions have lacked. "River of Gold" opens with shimmering chords by Crossingham, and is soon joined by Remila's undulating, distorted synth notes serving as a bass line and Green's layered percussion (shaker, tambourine, and toms commingling hypnotically), enveloping the listener instead of confronting, the song capped off by Crossingham's tremendous tenor voice, which continues to be the trio's strongest asset. The pulsating "Roma/Amor" follows suit, driven this time by Remila's bass guitar and Green's robust backbeat, Crossingham adding abstract fills throughout the song and howling ominous, enigmatic lines like, "We've become policemen hired by thugs." Meanwhile, the gentle acoustic number "Two Wives" is one of Crossingham's prettiest songs to date, hinting that his future music might continue in this quieter direction.

Although the band's more immediate approach dominates the first half of the album, the second half has the trio settling back into their trademark comfort zone of lengthy, drawn-out arrangements, moody atmospherics, and moments of raw power, nicely captured on tape by the accomplished Blurton. "Cypress Fields" is alternately foreboding and ebullient, propelled by Green's nervous, stuttering beats, while the acoustic epic "The Cliffdivers" focuses on that emotive voice of Crossingham's, his melancholy yet unpretentious vocal melodies sounding comfortably familiar to those of us who have grown accustomed to Raising the Fawn over the last few years. The album concludes on a typically grandiose note with the eight and a half minute "A Lion in Winter", which follows the band's formula to a tee (languid pace, sumptuous vocals, richly layered production), but the band throws us a welcome curveball in the last three minutes, as the song suddenly launches into a lilting, upbeat pace, Crossingham's vocal melodies ascending, and capped off with a lively solo.

Sleight of Hand is still not without the odd blip or two, which makes us wonder just how rushed this album actually was. The awkward "Focusfocusfocus", with its sparse synth arrangement and falsetto vocals, is a jarring departure, carrying on for two minutes longer than it should. Junior Boys, this is not. Elsewhere, both the easygoing pop of "You Are the Enemy" and the thunderous percussion of "Palace Gates" are terrific, but are also far too brief, coming off as undeveloped song fragments. That said, those slight imperfections can't mar an otherwise strong effort by this consistently reliable band. Now if only those fans who flocked to Broken Social Scene's shows would do the same for this fine trio.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.