The Most Serene Republic: ... And the Ever Expanding Universe

Techno beats and female vocal choirs merge with '80s synth keyboards and pocket orchestras to create the Most Serene Republic's most sonically overstimulated, instensely replayable album of their young career.

The Most Serene Republic

... And the Ever Expanding Universe

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2009-07-14
UK Release Date: 2009-08-03
Label Website
Artist Website

"We've never tried this before," one of the band members noted, soon picking up his acoustic guitar and gathering around a small fire pit outside of Kilby Court. The Most Serene Republic had just finished playing a show at the small venue just a few minutes prior, promoting their then-current album Population. It was December of 2007, the band in jackets and wool caps post-show, and due to one audience member's suggestion, the group was now gathered around the long-since dormant fire hole, and with no preparation whatsoever, vocalists Adrian Jewett and Emma Ditchburn began singing "Proposition 61" in the cold winter air, the acoustic strums ringing in the stifled air and adding to what could only be described as an absolutely magical moment.

What seemed odd, however, was that the band hadn't tried something like that before. In 2005, the Most Serene Republic got a bit of press for being the first act signed to the Canadian Arts & Crafts record label that had absolutely nothing to do with indie-rock supergroup Broken Social Scene or its various off-shoots. Their debut disc, Underwater Cinematographer, was an exciting mixture of thumping techno beats, indie-rock aesthetics, and lounge-y acoustic numbers peppered with a couple group shout-a-longs just for good measure. It was a fascinating little album, but things got a bit jumbled with their 2007 follow-up. Populations wasn't a bad record by any means, but by abandoning electronic instruments almost entirely, the group wound up homogenizing their sound somewhat, resulting in an organic-sounding album that blurred together when played straight through, songs barely distinguishing themselves from each other. It was a damn shame too, because in listening to "Humble Peasants" or lead single "The Men Who Live Upstairs" as standalone tracks, they turned out to be stunning, multi-tiered pop songs that did nothing short of shimmer, that magic mysteriously getting lost in the full-length format.

So, much like that impromptu acoustic set around a fire pit, the band is now doing something they've never tired before: recording with an outside producer.

At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but given that their two full-lengths (along with their admirable 2006 Phages EP) were produced by the band's keyboardist Ryan Lenssen, it seemed that some outside perspective would give the band a bit of a reboot to their sound -- and that's exactly what's happened. By bringing in Arts & Crafts' resident superproducer Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Los Campesinos!), the group has now expanded their sonic palette, unafraid to bring back the dance beats of their debut album while at the same time holding on to the more rustic, organic textures of Populations, making what may arguably be their first record to best encapsulate "that MSR sound".

... And the Ever Expanding Universe opens with "Bubble Reputation", a spirited piano number that wouldn't sound too out of place on Population, and, sadly, makes for a relatively average melodic pace car, as it simply cycles through many of the tropes that the MSR have used before. When things move on to "Heavens to Purgatory", however, thumping back beats begin mixing with sliding acoustic guitars, a cacophony of handclaps, and -- by tracks' end -- a choir of looped voices all saying different things. And yes, that's Jewett and Ditchburn softly cooing out the words "gadzooks" over and over again. "Purgatory" shows that the group has not only found their groove, but along the way, they've developed a sense of humor, and since they're not taking themselves as seriously as they have before, their words, vocals, and performances all sound a bit more open and free, making for an intensely enjoyable listening experience.

The group rarely, rarely adheres to a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, which by itself will still loan the band to comparisons to Broken Social Scene whether they like it or not. Hell, "Phi" sounds like exactly what you think of when you hear the phrase "Broken Social Scene Jr.", even as it deviates from the BSS formula by throwing in beatbox vocals and monstrously huge fuzz-guitar licks during the half-way point. "The Old Forever New Things" threatens to veer off in that same territory before it saves itself with its intricate bass work and Eastern-tinged acoustic accents -- these seemingly separate elements never once sounding out of place in the context of the album. Much like Underwater Cinematographer, there are many exciting aural left turns to be found, as no song ever stays in place for too long. When the group finally does decide to settle down and deliver an echo-laced piano ballad ("All of One is the Other"), it feels like we're being granted a break period, our hearts allowed to stop racing while the group collects their things to get ready for round two.

As good as Universe's first half is, though, it's the second act that positively destroys our preconception as to what the Most Serene Republic is capable of. "Patternicity" is a five-minute instrumental wherein the group decides to go the orchestral route, bringing in flutes, horns, and string sections to craft their very own pocket-symphony that would be completely at home during the closing credits of some period Oscar-bait drama. No, really: what happened to the Most Serene Republic of past?

Yet the surprises don't stop there. "Four Humors" is a sweetly low-key dance-rock track (as oxymoronic as that sounds) that's as excitable as it is lovely, and "Catharsis Boo" comes off as an Interpol song that's anchored by the notable addition of some female vocal choirs, their voices cascading over the syncopated drum hits. Then, just because the band hasn't done enough crazy things already, they launch into "Don't Hold Back, Feel a Little Longer", where they finally succumb to calling of the pure pop song, 80s synth keyboards soon clashing with Adam Balsam's furious drum patterns while the group pretty much sits down and watches their creation fight itself in a whirlwind of upbeat tempos and colored guitar textures. The group has never done a song as furious, uncompromising, or overcaffinated as this one, and following the (now) dry-by-comparison Population, this is a welcome change indeed.

The Most Serene Republic's ... And the Ever Expanding Universe isn't going to win any Album of the Year accolades, however. It isn't an album that makes any grand statements (largely due to Jewett's occasionally unintelligible lyrics), nor is it going to generate a huge cross-over radio staple (though it would be funny to hear "Don't Hold Back" positively destroy everything else on the radio dial in terms of sheer tempo). Universe isn't designed to do any of those things. Instead, Universe is what it is: a fun, catchy, constantly-shifting indie rock album that shows a young band finally discovering their collective voice and having the time of their lives celebrating that revelation. "We've never tried this before" they noted before they did that impromptu acoustic session around the fire pit; now they're trying things they never thought they were even capable of two years ago, and as a result of that boundary-pushing, they've just made the best album of their careers.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.