Review by Jason MacNeil
Arising from the same musical tree as fellow Canadian Patrick Watson, Plants and Animals are a very sophisticated, arty group that meld a wide arrange of influences. The bombastic, orchestral opener "Bye Bye Bye" could be considered a melding of the Polyphonic Spree, Devendra Banhart, and the Beatles, but the band nails the song perfectly. Walking such a fine tightrope though for an entire album could be a mistake, so fortunately the group offers up a panoramic plate of styles, especially on the groovy, prog rock feel of "Good Friend" that recalls a mellower version of the Flaming Lips. The lone snag with the track might be how string-laced and rich it becomes to close. The first true taste of classic, hippie-tinged prog rock is "Faerie Dance," a slow, plodding track that might be the yin to Black Mountain's yang. The group are quite adept at changing moods, especially on the roots-riddled "Feedback in the Field" that sounds to be heavily influenced by early Neil Young. The record has a sizeable amount of drama or gravitas as well, evidenced by "A L'oree Des Bois," which changes into a rather ethereal effort three-quarters of the way in. One of the highlights here is the nearly eight-minute waltz-rock approach behind "New Kind of Love" which screams to be covered by the Arcade Fire. Probably the biggest disappointment is the messy "Mercy" which veers from a dance-driven Afro-beat format into some haunting guitar instrumental a la Explosions in the Sky. They more than atone for it with the majestic and regal "Keep It Real."
Plants and Animals
[Secret City; 2008]
Montreal's music scene is like a clown car: just when you think it couldn't possibly have room to contain any more talent, some more emerge. The City of Saints can already lay claim to Billboard chart-toppers (Arcade Fire), Polaris Prize winners (Patrick Watson), punky Francophone ambassadors (We Are Wolves), no-wave revivalists (Les George Leningrad), noise rockers (AIDS Wolf), rappers (Gage), electro-funk party-starters (Chromeo) worldly indie pranksters (Islands), plus all the members of Wolf Parade and their many side projects. And now it can add ambitious, sun-baked trio Plants And Animals to the ranks of its growing community of celebrated musicians.
Like a distant Canadian cousin of Blitzen Trapper, this three-piece spins shaggy songs into expansive, genre-bending symphonies. And though last year's too-brief With/Avec EP hinted at Plants and Animals' expansiveness, it didn't fully prepare listeners for Parc Avenue, a sprawling collection of rootsy melodies, majestic arrangements, and classic rock riffs that owes as much to jam-band psychedelia and it does to delicately orchestrated chamber-folk.
The album kicks off with "Bye Bye Bye", which sounds, initially, like a Coldplay ballad led by Neil Young. But, mere seconds into the song, it explodes into a choral epic built on a foundation of jaunty pianos and embellished with plangent autoharp runs and bursts of stately brass. Tellingly, the track's infectious climax is more satisfying because it comes in fits and starts, its anthemic build interrupted several times by quiet interludes of noodley folk.
That, in short, is Plants And Animals. They offer up explosive, Polyphonic Spree-sized choir choruses, 1970s AM radio guitars, cozy folk balladry, and rambling stoner boogie-often in the course of one song-- and switch between them with little warning. Many of their songs clock in at over five minutes long, but that's all the better for them to pick up steam, stylistically mutate, or expand. "Faerie Dance", which also appeared on the EP, explores multiple genres and tempos within its seven-minute run. Its dreamy opening is marked by ethereal backing vocals, but then gives way to a wiry, disorienting guitar melody that churns in opposition to melodramatic strings. Just when you've given in to its post-rock vertigo, a lackadaisically strummed guitar pushes the tune into slacker-blues territory a la Mellow Gold. Likewise, the album's centerpiece, "Mercy", marries a Phish-like guitar vamp and jazzy, cymbal-heavy drumming to Go-Team!-ish cheerleader chants and handclaps. Saxophone belches add some welcome hard-edges to the loosey-goosey jam, and singer Warren Spicer offers, as counterpoint to the chipper cheering, a growling Sean Connery impression.
Spicer's lithe tenor, in fact, proves malleable over the course of the album, adapting to dispassionate talk-singing, raggedy country warbling, and arty, dramatic vibrato. His Beck impersonation on "Faerie Dance" is followed by "Feedback in the Field", on which he cops a convincing Tom Petty accent ("Somethin' in the air to-nye-ite"). "New Kind of Love" begins like a spare Iron & Wine ballad, but builds to theatrical, Arcade Fire levels of orchestral splendor. And on "Sea Shanty"-- which starts out like Ryan Adams' "Amy", minus the confessional self-pity, and evolves into meandering Lynyrd Skynyrd-style Southern rock-- Spicer is able to affect a honeyed croon.
From its scrawled, lower-case liner notes (complete with mistakes and cross-outs) to its sound, everything about Parc Avenue feels homemade. Its analog recording, which took place, in part, in Spicer's apartment, crackles with warmth and intimacy, and because the guest artists who fill out these orchestrations (including Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre's Sarah Neufeld) are friends of the band, a sense of camaraderie prevails. Plants and Animals may not be the first band to put Montreal on the musical map, but, with this album's there's-no-place-like-home vibe, they are certainly the first to celebrate it so warmly.
-Rebecca Raber, March 13, 2008