Review by Marisa Brown
At this point in time in the new millennium, Toronto rock might as well be considered its own subgenre. The success of the Arts & Crafts label and the group Broken Social Scene (and artists like Feist, Amy Millan, and Kevin Drew) has cemented the sound and idea of the city in the minds of indie rock fans across North America, even the world. The second full-length by the Most Serene Republic only helps to confirm that this is no fluke. Sporting intricately laid instrumental parts, none of which stay consistent throughout an entire track, anthemic, sometimes obscured or impenetrable male and female vocals, and an aggressive rhythm section, Population is a record that refuses to sit and meditate upon one particular thing for too long, instead approaching a theme (both musical and lyrical) from as many different angles as possible -- and never directly -- as if in an effort to circumscribe an idea rather than defining it tidily. In "Present of Future End," for example, dynamics rise and fall, guitars enter and exit, horns burst and fade away as singers Adrian Jewett and Emma Ditchburn trade off lines about the effects of technology on relationships. "When the talking involved mouth not hands," Jewett reminisces, while Ditchburn counters later with the sweetly melodic, singsongy "Take my voice, please do what you want with it, chose like a mouse with click." Clearly delineated verses and choruses are eschewed for rolling, sweeping phrases that, despite their occasional lack of focus, carry listeners along on the journey and are never boring. Even the instrumental selections here -- the Brazilian jazz-influenced "A Mix of Sun and Cloud," the pastoral opener "Humble Peasants," and the dramatic Italian cinema-inspired "Agenbite of Inwit" -- are engaging enough in their musical diversity that they just add to the overall ambiance of Population, that kind of caught-in-the-moment feeling you get when you realize the album's already done and you don't know where that time went. The kind of offering that proves the Most Serene Republic's place in not only Toronto rock, but in indie rock itself.
The Most Serene Republic
[Arts & Crafts; 2007]
In a tug-of-war match, the Most Serene Republic could give fellow Arts & Crafts-men Broken Social Scene a run for their money (and members), but the two are far from evenly matched in the studio. Although TMSR were the A&C label's first non-Broken Social Scene-related artists, the new collective is awfully similar to the old: Both blow up private bedroom ballads to marching band proportions and play up a revolving-door policy for vocalists, creating less an impression of an indie rock than a utopian commune town meeting.
Clocking in at almost an hour-- and pulling out even more tricks and toys than TMSR's debut, Underwater Cinematographer-- Population shows growth in the sense of size, but not so much in quality. As unfair as the "band nerd" stereotype can be, the Most Serene Republic practically define it. While Broken Social Scene or Stars barely break a sweat on their mid-tempo rockers, tracks like "Sherry and Her Butterfly Net" or "Solipsism Millionaires" run themselves ragged, piling on mounds of stop/start verse breaks and vocal parts over melodies not strong enough to serve as a foundation.
Luckily, Population's setbacks are occasionally overshadowed by its strengths: When its cerebral power is firing on all cylinders, a sleeping giant is nudged awake. Opener "Humble Peasants" almost single-handedly vindicates the criticism aimed at the band's plentiful instrumentation, using mostly wind and string instruments to evoke the orchestral, pastoral imagery of one of M83's digitized epics. Although the full band setup is fertile ground for life-affirming tunes, the Republic avoids easy heartstring-tugging on "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Career in Shaping Clay", two detached art-rock tracks that, like the Dismemberment Plan or early Les Savy Fav, serve up backhanded tributes to emo.
Still, these few highlights can't redeem the fact that listening to Population feels like a war of attrition. Compared to similarly intricate albums like Caribou's Andorra or Sunset Rubdown's Random Spirit Lover, Population feels like a quadruple-stacked Big Mac instead of a four-course meal. Rather than cleverly weaving in and out of melody lines and utilizing diverse dynamics and rhythms, the Most Serene Republic cram distorted drum fills and brass leads into songs that lacks the ideas to justify the bombast.
-Adam Moerder, October 30, 2007