You've got to hand it to those Canadians... they really have the indie-rock collective thing down.
I realize that Canadians have a reputation for being a friendly bunch, but I tell ya, these indie-rock collectives are sort of getting out of hand. Following in the great footsteps of those like Broken Social Scene and the Arcade Fire, the Ghost Is Dancing recently expanded their roster to nine members and must now pretty much fill up every inch of every stage they're playing on these days. The inclusive vibe is a great thing and, while it's exciting to think that pop music is embracing this tendency towards collaboration, TGID's full-length debut feels like they're treading on someone else's path a little too much. They're clearly fans of the Canadian supergroups that have come before them, and must hear that an awful lot, but frankly the natural comparisons are so obvious here that it's distracting.
Besides the increasing stage space required to house them, there are other notable differences with the band since they first came on the scene with their EP last year. The mixed reactions from critics then was mainly attributed to the group's over-zealous impersonation of a lo-fi Arcade Fire, and widely suggested that some further experience might give the band the edge they need to sound less like a group of friends fooling around with instruments and more like an actual band. For their full length debut, the introduction of well-known indie producer Dale Morningstar has clearly made a significant dent in pushing the band towards something with more of a shape. But despite the good intentions, the album doesn't step beyond the anthemic impersonations long enough to make an impression of its own.
The band are playing with a formula we've seen a lot of lately: the slow crawl of layered vocal harmonies and low guitar, dramatic crescendos of horns, anthemic arrangements, and chaotic choruses. As a single song, the layering can be dynamic and exciting, but an entire album of this roller coaster-ing -- especially when the technique is far from being mastered -- feels predictable and starts to get annoying. It also suggests that the band perhaps should switch their focus to building their bag of tricks instead of the size of their stage presence. At the very least, someone should tell them that every song doesn't need to follow the same bell curve of sound.
All this said, part of the benefit of these collectives is the killer live set that can occur while you're watching something the size of a soccer team performing in front of you. A charismatic live show is something the group certainly does well, as a packed house saw at this year's NXNE festival. The band is clearly in their element on stage together, and play off each other's energies extremely well; it's this unique charisma that they need to learn to bring to their albums. The Darkest Spark includes those tracks that have earned the band their reputation for a frenzied live show, and in some cases that chemistry does translate well on record here.
The energy and optimism of tracks like "We'll Make It" are undeniable, especially since it's one of the earlier songs on the album, so the horns and all the big choral arrangements don't feel worn yet. The group also shows that they can rein in the over-exuberance when they want to on "Greatlakeescape", a chilled-out number that stands out as an album highlight. It's all the moments in between and all the cooks in the kitchen that ultimately seem to get the better of this album.
In the end, these guys have a lot on their plate to learn how to manage, and a lot of pieces that need to find their proper place. With all of their enthusiasm, I'm sure some of it can be put towards finding that right fit for their next release.