Canadian rock-centred radio stations have a tendency to fixate on a few core artists, often times local artists. The duty to support homegrown acts has become an embedded feature in modern rock radio.
There’s a Toronto station that is absolutely obsessed with hometown trio Rural Alberta Advantage, playing their songs more than any other artist’s. I’m not particularly affected by this one way or another; I like some of RAA’s songs and mostly just found this blind devotion a cliche to poke fun at.
Of course, this means that much airplay is currently going to RAA’s newest single “Candu”, which I do take offense to because it is a terminally bland third tier Lumineers knock-off lacking a single hook.
This will sound like a back-handed compliment, but all the flack the Lumineers get for filling the airwaves with filler folk is baseless because the band themselves really don’t have that many big songs. They have been popular for exactly one decade now and in that time have less than 10 radio singles, none of which can be considered “filler”. Intentional or not, but the Lumineers have avoided the misstep of quantity over quality, which is something many of my absolute favourite bands are guilty of. (Hey The Killers, the world really didn’t need “Run for Cover”)
It’s the sound that the Lumineers begat that’s the issue. They themselves pilfered their rustic vibe from Mumford & Sons, simplifying and Americanizing it and in turn creating a template for bands old and new to sound organic and poppy simultaneously.
And now 10 years later the Rural Alberta Advantage are still dabbling in this sound, and are still getting played, and therein lies the problem. “Candu” is the exact song you would play to someone to make fun of millennials with. Using a Lumineers song would be disingenuous because all those songs at least had noticeable hooks. “Candu” is perfectly faceless, a generic song for the handlebar mustached, middle class, hipster-adjacent bro who dominated the 2010s zeitgeist. Too hip for Rise Against, too square for Death Grips, rightfully mocked by both the meatheads and the crust punks on either side of him. He’s now a marketing manager at a local app called BrewR that helps you find different kinds of beer, has a young kid, and a pumpkin-spice loving wife named Kayley. And he loves “Candu”.
Alexisonfire and Metric ruled alternative radio in the 2000s, and have since stayed fairly relevant in the genre’s ecosystem. Metric have regularly released enjoyable records, while Alexisonfire have relied on their devoted fans to maintain their popularity during their decade-long hiatus. Both bands will have new albums in 2022 and have served up some singles in preparation, and both seem to have fallen prey to that ever-annoying “raw” trend, in their own way.
Metric’s “All Comes Crashing” will no doubt sound fantastic in a live setting. It’s another arena shaker in the vein of “Dressed to Suppress” or “Stadium Love”, expansive and hefty. In its recorded form though, it’s tough to enjoy fully because the drums of course – of course – are distorted in the oh-so-popular manner of making the audio clip.
Now to be fair, Metric didn’t make them as bad as say, Sam Fender’s “Long Way Down” or nearly every song on Oberhofer’s latest album Smothered. The listenability is still affected however; a big glossy electronic anthem should have big glossy electronic drums, not ones that sound like they’re just ever-so-slightly corroded.
Alexisonfire’s “Sweet Dreams of Otherness” and “Reverse the Curse” have an entirely different problem. Thankfully there’s no clipping or peaking, but the production is far from the sleek, clean material from their first two albums. This is a burlier, woollier Alexisonfire. They sound like they’ve been hanging around blues bar bands for the past 10 years, and sludged up their music accordingly. They once had both “post-hardcore” and “post-rock” signifiers. The “post” has been dropped. This is hardcore and rock music now, a 7os version of screamo that doesn’t hit as hard.
They’ve also implemented some sort of democratized pact to allow every member to sing, muddying the sound even further. The best part of the band’s sound was the interplay between Dallas Green’s clear-eyed wail and George Pettit’s visceral shrieking. Once they started adding Wade “vacuum cleaner with rocks in it” MacNeil into the mix it disrupted the complementary vocals. Now he’s all over the tracks and they sound more like one of his numerous side projects than Alexisonfire proper. If I sound overly critical here it’s because I’ve worked directly with him and he was incredibly rude to me.
While we’re on the topic of production, let’s talk about current buzz bin act Hatchie. Hailed as the second coming of Lorde, the Australian electro-pop has the blogs rapturously waxing about her songwriting skill. I’m not hearing it. Aside from the excellent “Quicksand”, the rest of the album comes up short on solid hooks.
What I am hearing though, is immaculate production. There’s a very distinct sheen to Hatchie’s music that sets her apart from her peers in the genre. There’s no mistaking Hatchie for CHVRCHES or Broods or Metric. I fully admit to overusing the word “lush” to describe music, but man is this music lush. The best way I can describe it is “digital rainforest”. It’s constructed entirely of synthesizers, but sounds verdant and florid. Hatchie isn’t quite ready to be a headliner, but its entirely possible she will be by the next album cycle.
I’m very much excited for this new Bright Eyes project that involves them releasing companion EPs alongside remastered versions of nearly all their albums. I’m also the tiniest bit wary and can’t decide whether I want them to remake my favourites or not.
They’re only remaking a selection from each album on these companion EPs, so there’s no guarantee they’ll touch the popular tracks, but they have thus far redone fan favourite “Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh” so there very well may be new versions of “Easy/Lucky/Free” or “Jejune Stars” in the works.
I wasn’t going to write about The Killers’ “The Getting By V”, because the song is pretty “mid”, as the zoomers say. But every time it comes on my iPod I forget what it is until I heard Brandon Flowers’ signature warble and it ends up pleasantly surprising me.
Released as part of a new version of last year’s Pressure Machine, the fifth (??) iteration of “The Getting By” ends up being the best iteration, although it’s clear this was very much just an experiment by Flowers to see what the song would sound like in The Killers’ usual style. It’s most apparent as the first chorus hits and Flowers hasn’t yet finished singing the prechorus, his vocals totally drowned out by the incoming percussion and synths.
I’m ashamed how long it took for me to realize that Johnny Marr’s “The Speed of Love” is an attempt at recreating The Smiths “How Soon is Now?” without the Morrissey baggage. The tempo, the tone of the guitar riff, the menacing bass, the cavernous soundscape – it’s all there. The only thing missing? Avant-garde lyricism.