If they didn't have to be so darn resilient, Tangiers would have become just another pleasant memory among Canadian indie rock fans. Their 2003 debut album Hot New Spirits was a huge success on the Canadian campus radio charts, and had critics all over North America impressed, as songs like "Keep the Living Bodies Warm", "Return to the Ship", and "Ca Va Cool" placed the band at the forefront of Canadian garage rock, right up there with The Deadly Snakes. Late that year, Tangiers practically imploded, as guitarist Yuri Didrichsons and drummer Marco Moniz departed, but to their credit, singer/guitarist Josh Reichmann and singer/bassist James Sayce began working on a second album. When they eventually recruited former Guided by Voices drummer Jon McCann and keyboardist Shelton Deverell (who had already played in Tangiers for a spell), it was obvious that the band's new sound would be somewhat of a departure from the aggressive, double guitar ferocity of Hot New Spirits; how much of a departure, and how successful the change would be, though, remained to be seen.
Such a drastic change in a band's sound is always a challenge, especially when you consider the hype surrounding Tangiers' first album, and the sound on their new record, the hastily-recorded Never Bring You Pleasure, is indeed a bit jarring the first time you hear it. There's a more minimal style present this time around, as Reichmann frantically strums his lone guitar, with Deverell serving up slinky accompaniment on organ, sounding much like Steve Nieve of the Attractions, adding both a gospel element and a sinister reggae feel to the music. The production, by Dale Morningstar, is raw, actually coming close to rivaling the trademark sound of Steve Albini, as Reichmann's guitar sound is noticeably unpolished, McCann's drumming dominates the mix at times, as he thunders away, and vocals often take a back seat to the guitar, bass, and drums, Sayce and Reichmann sounding like they're standing too far away from the microphone, trying to shout over all the noise.
One of the best changes that Tangiers has undergone is the emergence of Sayce as a first rate singer-songwriter, as he and Reichmann serve up contrasting songwriting styles, offsetting each other very nicely. Reichmann's compositions continue in the same herky-jerky vein as on Hot New Spirits, but minus that second guitar, and with Deverell's organ stabs, there's more brooding, and less aggression. You hear it instantly on a song like "Love Rackets", as Reichmann howls over his acoustic guitar and McCann's insistent beat, while Deverell delivers a descending '60s garage lick on organ, before adding touches of disco-fused electric piano in the songs middle eight. "Bones to Match the Heart" (which oddly reminds one of the great Canadian band Simply Saucer) resounds with jittery, caffeinated energy, while "Energy Jaws" has a great little groove in the main riff. His best moment on the album is the terrific "Spine to Necklace", which begins as a crazed, Buzzcocks-fueled dose of punk guitars, but then immediately shifts into a very cool, swinging stomp, as he and Deverell trade irresistible licks.
It's Sayce's contributions, though, that provide the most fun on Never Bring You Pleasure. If the band is ever going to have a song from this album garner attention in the States, it'll be one of Sayce's, as his songs possess a more of a warm, conventional sound, not to mention a fair share of memorable hooks. The simplicity of "I Don't Love You" is endearing, as Sayce howls the soaring chorus, while the propulsive "Walk Run Walk" plows along, driven by Sayce and McCann's rhythm section. The jubilant "I Wanna Go Out" is an ebullient blast of sunny post punk, and the goofy, 60s style pop of "We're So Breathless" matches anything Sloan has done in the past three years, but it's the fantastic "Ro Ro Roland" that provides the album its one great highlight. Boasting an extremely catchy organ melody that mimics Sayce's vocals (much like The Strokes' "12:51"), it seems on the verge of flying off in three different directions at once, and the enigmatic lyrics try too hard at times ("If I love everything at last/How could I ever live with my darkened past?"), but the song somehow stays together for four exhilarating minutes.
The album is far from flawless, as a handful of Reichmann's songs sputter ("I've Been Calling" and the overlong "Your Collour", for instance), and the no-frills, slapdash recording style sounds a bit too rushed at times, but overall, Never Bring You Pleasure is a marked improvement over Hot New Spirits. If these guys can just keep this band together for a while longer than the last lineup, then this certainly won't be the last time we'll be raving about Tangiers. At the rate this band is improving with each album, we should be in for a real treat next time around.