Wan Santo Condo
Wan Santo Condo's self-titled album basically sounds like mainstream, radio-friendly rock. My indie sensibilities push this band to the back of my psyche like an index finger pushing to the back of a bulemic's mouth. I'm not trying to berate the band, but the genre can disappear into a musical black hole for all I care. That being said, I will say that these guys are decent musicians that come up with some interesting melodic and vocal phrasings (for a rock band, that is).
The strength of this album, though, is definitely in its production qualities. Everything is immaculate and pristine. Clarity and well-thought-out dynamic shifts are a definite theme that runs throughout the entire album. Also, the part most bands tend to neglect, the progressions between the songs, and the simultaneous transition to the next song, are seamless. What is more impressive about this continuity through the album is the fact that they recorded these songs at a whole bunch of different studios in Austin, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, to name a few locations.
This album is okay, in the end, and it's mainly due to the awesome production job. If, however, this band were to do something that would actually contribute to the musical landscape, I would probably like it more. I'd suggest that these guys open their ears to the abundance of music that's out there, in hopes that exposure to the infinite possibilities it can provide could motivate them to push into some newer territory. (SR)
(Everloving Records -- 2650 Griffith Park #126, Los Angeles, CA. 90039; http://www.everloving.com/; Wan Santo Condo -- http://www.wansantocondo.com/)
I've started playing this game where I try to guess whether a band is together because its members all shared some sort of common musical vision or because playing with other people is fun, so why not? System Of A Down, for instance, I'd place in the former category, while Audioslave clearly fits the latter (but that's probably a gimme). Welsh Rabbit is another apparent marriage of convenience; their Forward Motion seems so perfunctory that it'd be tough to convince me that the band felt like it was onto something special. The songs are almost the textbook definition of nondescript indie, of the sort plied by a thousand bands who toiled away on the college scene in the 1980s, all sung in a characterless voice that's mostly on pitch (the first verse of "Last Line" is pretty rough, though) but demonstrates no real reason to be heard other than the fact that it's the least objectionable of the available options, or maybe it just belongs to the songwriter. "Breakup #2" is an enervated jangle-pop number with a bit of buzz, "Reflection Of The Three" is a stupid shuffle without any sort of momentum, and there was a point during "Mai Tai" where I forgot I was listening to a song. "Both Sides," meanwhile, sounds like the band heard that there was a New Wave revival going on and figured that they'd jump in without really giving it much thought. That seems to sum up Forward Motion, really. It's bland, unnecessary and oddly businesslike. That's not Welsh Rabbit's fault, really; its members just haven't found the proper combination of people to play with. That sucks, but it's the reality for such a vast majority of people who ever play music with others that it would be foolish to pretend to be shocked when you realize that it's not working. The trick is to keep from insisting that it is. (MH)
(self-released; Welsh Rabbit -- http://www.welshrabbit.com/)
Painting A Burning Building
Brandon Wiard's a man who doesn't know what he wants to be. Sardonic alternativiste? Expansive art-rocker? Evan Dando-esque sensitive pretty boy? Wiard dips his wick into all of them on Painting A Burning Building, but he's most likely to end up the latter, thanks in part to a voice that sounds like Dando with a flatter delivery. The songs that come closest to sticking show Wiard flexing his pop craftsman muscles, but it turns out that he's not much for heavy lifting; the constant alternation between acoustic quietness and electric guitars in "Miss Michigan," the Reggie and the Full Effect-like piano figure in the mid-tempo "Caroline" and the twelve-string guitar and Del Shannon feel of "I'll Write These Songs" can't disguise the uniform thinness of the songs. Elsewhere, Wiard shares his lead vocal with Kara Dupuy in the Mates Of State-like (but not Mates Of State-level) "Moving On" and transforms "Since You've Gone Away" from a plaintive pop tune into a speedy, heavy-bassed hard rock song in its last 15 seconds or so. By the time he's hit the multi-part "Old Heartless Sun," which is like TV On The Radio and Pink Floyd having sex in the hopes of popping out another "A Quick One While He's Away," it sounds like Wiard's just throwing out anything and everything he can think of in the hopes that something will stick. (MH)
(Cerberus Records -- P.O. Box 335, Tecumseh, MI. 49286; http://www.cerberusrecords.com/; Brandon Wiard -- http://www.brandonwiard.com/)
Don't fret, people of Canada. I know you're probably getting kind of nervous about all the attention currently focused on your fair country by your less-well-behaved neighbors to the South, but I'm here to tell you that you really don't need to worry. I know, I know -- it's a bit terrifying to hear Montreal, in particular, pegged as "the next Seattle/New York/Omaha/whatever," since that happy little tag seems to be more of a curse than a compliment these days. But really, you don't need to worry. For one thing, hundreds of mediocre American bands aren't going to be flooding into Quebec in a vain attempt to cash in on "the Montreal Scene," because, well, it's hard to make it past the immigration authorities when the job title you put on the form is "Musician."
Second, you folks are just too damn strange. I mean, I love The Arcade Fire to death, but if they weren't a Canadian band, our wonderful American media wouldn't be giving them the time of day. They wouldn't fit the American rock radio/MTV/etc. mold, and so they'd end up toiling in college radio obscurity, sadly, for the bulk of their careers, only remembered after the fact as A Band That Influenced Other Bands (see the Pixies and Hüsker Dü about that one). Because they are Canadian, however, it's okay that they're weird; we expect that from you folks. You've got socialized medicine, you all seem to speak French as well as you do English, you tell our politicians they're idiots, you have a state-run broadcasting company -- frankly, we just don't get you. So to have a band we don't get coming from a country we don't get, hey, that makes perfect sense, right? It's part of the appeal, even, that Canadian alien-ness; you're like the quiet, dangerous-looking kid with the tattoos who everybody steers clear of but all the girls secretly want to jump into the sack with. "Strange" is damn sexy. Unfortunately for us (and probably to your eternal relief), "strange" also generally means "unattainable." We can look (and listen), but we can't touch.
Finally, you folks have nothing to worry about because, to put it plainly, you've got the music to back it up. If somebody calls you "the next Seattle," you can just snicker and shake your head, because unlike Seattle, where a small, small, small number of really good bands begat about a million crap bands, it seems like every musical product you folks throw at us lately is gold -- you've not only got The Arcade Fire, but also Hot Hot Heat, The Stills, Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, Black Mountain...the list goes on and on. (It helps, naturally, that Canada as a whole is a lot bigger and more diverse than Seattle, but you get what I mean.)
Then there's Wolf Parade's self-titled debut EP on Seattle-based (hmm...) Sub Pop Records. I was skeptical, at first, when I learned that the guys in the band have various links to other up-and-coming Canadians -- "dear God," I thought, "has it already come to this? Is the Canadian music scene already imploding?" I mean, Wolf Parade guitarist Dan Boeckner played guitar with The Arcade Fire, drummer Arlen Thompson's in a band with an ex-Hot Hot Heat member, and singer/pianist Spencer Krug played with Frog Eyes and Destroyer and does his own thing as Sunset Rubdown; the only odd man out is electronics/synth guy Hadji Bakara. But don't worry -- having now actually listened to Wolf Parade more than a new times, I have to say that even with the taint of indie-rock interbreeding, I just can't resist this little gem of an album.
"Shine a Light," the first track, is all bouncing, head-bobbing synth-pop that somehow manages to pull off an almost "Western" feel despite the New Wave-y-ness. When "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son" (which, along with "Shine a Light," will also be released in September on the band's first-ever full-length, Apologies to the Queen Mary) comes in, though, it dumps the synth feel right down the drain, going instead for stomping piano, plaintive vocals and a Modest Mouse-esque delivery, which is pretty appropriate, since Mouse frontman Isaac Brock apparently pretty much dragged the band onto the Sub Pop roster all by his lonesome.
"Disco Sheets" takes a step back and sideways, moving over into Interpol territory (if, perhaps, David Byrne was the band's frontman). Frantic handclaps, jagged guitars, and propulsive synth-bass pulls the listener along at a nightclubbing pace, but the nicest moments come when the band deftly punches a hole in the tense atmosphere and interjects a pretty little melody or two. The EP's rounded out by "Lousy Pictures," which begins like a Funeral outtake but then morphs into a disjointed rhumba and then into a grand, majestic indie-rock song. At its end, I find myself smiling and tapping along, but at the same time I'm chuckling and shaking my head -- ah, those crazy Canadians. How in the hell do they do that? Take it from me, folks: once our little spasm of Montreal/Victoria-love passes, things up in your part of the world will quickly return to normalcy. And judging by the music you're already making, that'll be just fine. (JH)
(Sub Pop Records -- P.O. Box 20367, Seattle, WA. 98102; http://www.subpop.com/; Wolf Parade -- http://wolfparade.cjb.net/)