By David Courtright
Plants and Animals showed a great deal of promise with their 2008 album, Parc Avenue. Montreal has no shortage of innovative and successful music acts, and many of those influences and collaborations shine through in the versatility of that album. It weaves through power chord rock, nimble folk interludes, country rhythms, and images of fairies and woodland creatures, all clinging together under a banner of epic-ness that Montreal acts seem to live and breathe. Canadian bands often have quite the knack for big expansive sound (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene), and with that album, Plants and Animals took it in a very interesting direction.
Unfortunately, mostly everything that was interesting and provocative about that Parc Avenue sound they seem to have left behind on their latest album, La La Land, which came out April 20 of this year. They’ve surely tightened up: they began as an improvisational instrumental band until vocalist Warren Spicer joined a band where he contributed harmony vocals. With this taste for vocals, he went on to write more concise organized songs with words. This amalgam of free-improvisation with structured melodies and chord progressions produced a sound at once rooted in rock and country traditions, but also meandering into a more eclectic and disparate territory.
Spicer has described their sound as “classic rock…or post-classic rock,” which was increasingly evident at their show last Saturday at The EARL. Playing about a 30 percent capacity, the band performed mostly new songs, all raucous and electric guitar driven. The audience was rambunctious enough, complete with frat-boy types yelling competing cheers and jeers (Guy 1: “You guys f—ing rule!” Guy 2: “Shut up idiot!”) to which Spicer diffused with, “Hey guys, we’re all having fun here.” There was also a girl in a coon-skin hat violently noodle-dancing beside me. Despite these distractions, I enjoyed the show. Though their three-piece set up looks minimal (two guitars, drummer and occasional bass from guitarist Nic Basque), they can achieve through pedals and arrangement a range of sounds and effects in a live setting.
While they have a terrific stage presence and energy, and a camaraderie that implies years of playing together, there was something missing from the performance. Perhaps their migration from the more eclectic folk aspects of the previous album to this album’s glitz and bravado left me wishing for a greater intimacy with the songs. You could dance to it, you could bob your head to it, and the musicianship was impressive to say the least. But there was a disconnect between how the vocals and lyrics fell and how the instrumentation complimented it. On the surface it’s difficult to put a finger on just how their sound is different from classic rock. All the elements are there. These days it’s difficult to come up with anything new without sounding like you’re recycling someone else’s paradigm. And perhaps with that folk sound, with the interruptions of auto-harp on Parc Avenue, that’s what stood out for me. It seems now they’re pursuing a more well-worn course, which unfortunately, is far less interesting.