Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Album Review: ...And the Ever Expanding Universe

They say a band often hasn't reached full maturity until its third LP is complete - once the trifecta is finished, they have graduated, and arrived. For some (*Cough* I'm looking at you, Coldplay), the third time is not the charm. For Canadian indie group The Most Serene Republic, the third attempt was somewhat in the middle with ...And the Ever Expanding Universe.

The album can never really seem to define itself. TMSR continues with their classic style of layered indie pop, but they can sometimes get lost in their own sound. Some tracks, such as the breathy, mellow-then-disturbingly-distorted Phi, are somewhat uninspiring in their overthought structure and overstressed looseness. I'm not exactly sure where the band is trying to go on tracks like All of One is the Other, what could be best described as a spacey piano ballad with lots of synth waves, ultimately coming together in a whole bunch of piano trills while lead singer Adrian Jewett warbles out an uninspiring attempt at being inspiring and dramatic. Or maybe they meant to do that, and it just didn't strike me as all that great.

Despite its lack of continuity and sometimes purpose, and despite the occasional pockets of confusion and meh (as I've found on all TMSR records), I still love this record. Perhaps it's just me; I'm listening to it a few times over, trying to see what they're hitting at in some of these tracks. Maybe it's just too indie for me to quite see.

Don't get me wrong; there are some great, great, tracks on this record. The opening track, Bubble Reputation, is stunning, leading in with an epic horn introduction, and then taking the listener on a wild ride of distorted piano and driving guitar... which then slows to a well-executed piano bridge, eventually building to an ending that builds, fades, and finally explodes into a topsy-turvy end. Pristine.

Another favorite is the twinkling gem that is The Old Forever New Things (featured on an earlier blog post.) It is largely a very mellow track, with a breathy vocal duet by singers Adrian Jewett and Emma Ditchburn, with a suave bassline giving the song some groove. Some masterful acoustic guitarmanship, distorted just enough, gives this track a unique feel that you don't often get. The band's neurotic attention to detail leaves the listener satisfied with each jangle of the guitar string and small piano riff.

The band really shows off their brilliance on Patternicity, a six-minute orchestral opus that truly embodies TMSR at their best. It is meticulously scored, and is so perfectly out of place in an indie rock album that it left me with my jaw dropped for the first minute, and grinning from ear to ear by the end. It is not only the audacity of putting such a track on the record that amazes me, but how well it fits with the album. It just works, against all odds, just because it's scored so well, almost a pop-like glance into the world of classical music, complete with swooping violins, chirping woodwinds, and a climactic and satisfying conclusion that still holds you to the last note.

The album has some other nice songs as well, from the driving, synth-heavy, psychadellic Don't Hold Back, Feel a Little Longer to peppy lead single Heavens to Purgatory. A few of these songs pop out, never quite fitting into the jigsaw of the album, and feel a bit lonely juxtaposed against their just-slightly-dissimilar neighbors, but are nonetheless quite enjoyable to listen to (oh no, I ended on a preposition!)

On the whole, ...And the Ever Expanding Universe is about on par with TMSR's last album, Population in maturity. Their sound continues to get better and better, and I really think they did a wonderful job with this one. They just need to put all of their great talent together and churn out an album that flows a bit better. But for all its scattered glory, this album is still likely one of the best indie releases of the year.

No, I don't give numerical ratings.

If you sign up for their newsletter (Army of the Republic), you can listen to a full stream of the album at this link.

Otherwise, ...And the Ever Expanding Universe can be purchased and downloaded from iTunes, GalleryAC, or Amazon.

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