It is refreshing to hear bands that actually develop melody within their songs. Groups like Margot & The Nuclear So And So's and the Arcade Fire use more than your typical rock & roll instrumentation, which is something my music background appreciates. There is nothing wrong with the normal vocals/guitar/bass/drums lineup, but adding in strings, brass and woodwinds along with other various instruments makes for a different listening experience. Bringing in these layers to pop songs is exactly what the band Canada does on their debut LP, This Cursed House.
Just to clarify things before we get much further, Canada is not Canadian. The seven band members all hail from Southern Michigan, who somehow got their hands on the sound board used to mix the second and third installments of the Star Wars trilogy. Weird, right? They used it to record this album during this past winter, resulting in a dark yet warm collection of symphonic folks songs that should appeal to anybody with an ear for well-crafted, lush pop.
The first real song on the album is "Beige Stationwagon," filled with plenty of cello, melodica and a fantastic melody that sounds as if it was written years ago on the back porch after drinking some homemade moonshine. It has just a hint of twang, giving it that small-town feeling. This vibe continues with the simple "Hexenhaus," with dueling cellos (OK, so that isn't very small town), a tambourine, acoustic guitar and a sing-along chorus. I could totally see Canada sitting around a roaring fire while recording this one.
A handful of instrumentals pop up throughout this album, including "Hey Garland," which uses a typewriter as the source of percussion. The result is really damn cool as the typing gives way to the next song, "Record Function." This upbeat tune almost features a disco drumbeat, while the lead vocalist almost sounds like Lou Barlow. The vocal harmonies are infectious as all seven members join in on a round of "oh... oh... ohs." You'll find yourself singing along by halfway through this one.
Next up is one of my favorite songs on the album, the downtempo "The King's Ashes." The majority of this one is relatively simple, with nothing more than a Rhodes piano, acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica and multi-party vocal harmonies. With just a hint of twang, it is a beautiful song with a heartfelt melody, as if it was written bleary eyed after downing several whiskeys. Another favorite moment is "Madisonville, KY," once again bringing the cellos and banjo back together, along with bells and more of those fantastic vocal harmonies.
I'm not going to cover all fourteen tracks in this review, as I want to leave a few surprises for those of you who make the smart decision to pick up a copy of This Cursed House. This is the type of album I will give repeated listens to while at home, chilled out on my sofa with a strong drink, the lights off and my headphones on. There are so many layers to their songs that they offer something new with each listen. Using everything from crystal wine glasses to glockenspiel, there is much to discover within the music of Canada.