Reviews:: Plants & Animals Parc Avenue

The amount of hype surrounding the new Plants & Animals release - Parc Avenue (see, we have an avenue theme today) - is palpable. We've talked about it before, but the combination of being the next release on Secret City and the unimaginable success of their genre bending Avec/With EP had critics and fans waiting on baited breath for this record.

Chances are if you are searching for words on Plants & Animals, you already know that Parc Avenue more than delivers the goods. The thing is, I am surprised by how many people are so into the band's unique hybrid of pop, jazz, rock, folk and most importantly, jamming. I really envisioned more people reacting like Frank, and not really embracing the record as a whole. In fact, I was quite ready to prepare one of those 8-mile style Eminem, premature rebuttal verses to help push people into the P & A fan club.

"I hate jam bands."
Really, who doesn't? But unlike most jam bands I don't think that Plants & Animals craft songs simply as an after thought to set up extended periods of repeating chords. In fact, I think the build up and conclusion to their jammiest moments really are just as important to the success of the songs.

One of my favorite songs on the record (Mercy) is probably one of the most traditional jams, but it's also features the most interesting transitions. The band jumps into a groove and lets it run for a few furlongs, but the song is more than the ear pleasing instrumentation they open with. The horns and shouted chorus replace the driving rhythm and transforms Mercy. The frantic hand-clapping break down where people are just shouting mercy over and over changes the identity of the song and by the time they dive into the feedback heavy guitar buzz, arena rock build that caps the song you've almost forgot the opening "jam." When jam bands normally try things like this, it takes 10-minutes and leaves most listeners (not high on E or shrooms) left bored. Plants and Animals finished up the track at just over five minutes and never lets your attention drift (note: plus they continue the Canadian tradition of mentioning Riviere-du-Loup in a song).

Sure, they have some hippie friendly numbers on this record. Sea Shanty for example that starts as an acoustic and builds into an instrumental jam with strings and oohs and the album closer Guru is a pretty textbook jam number, but they also mix in a surreal Queen anthem to open the record (Bye, Bye, Bye) and constantly experiment with textures, styles and influences. They are a still a young band, but the diversity they've shown already shows that they have potential to find a sound which truly defines a genre of music as opposed to contsantly being lumped into one.

"The songs are too long."
Again, normally I'd be joining the witch hunt. I hate long songs that are long simply for the sake of overextending riffs and melodies. The band is able to find a riff and tie it off nicely, whether it is over the course of eight minutes or three. The 70's rock vibe of Feedback in the Field hits you right out of the gate and the distortion of the guitar, elastic band strung bass line and cymbal crashes really push this song along. If they chose to settle into this riff for five or six minutes, it would have gotten boring and lost the immediacy of the track, but the song is just over three-minutes.

You contrast that with New Kind of Love. The track starts with a nice acoustic riff that gains momentum over the first two minutes of the song. The strong harmonies warm the track and the band transitions nicely into a denser sound (especially when the cavernous drum sound starts pounding) without shifting the focus from the acoustic. They take their time and let the song reveal itself naturally, before exploding into a chaotic mix of textures and vocal around the four-minute mark and the shift in energy really keeps you involved.

I really look at the fade two minute fade out as separate song. The flute and soft choral vocals really could have been spliced and named something else to appease listeners, but the band comes full circle and returns to the organic style that started the song. It shows that they have a firm grasp on the big picture and instead of alienating listeners with another epic, they follow it up with a nice transition into the succinct but incredibly pleasing Early in the Morning.

But even if you still couldn't get past these two polarizing stumbling points, I truly believe if you listen to Parc Avenue you will appreciate how truly iconoclastic Plants & Animals really are. They've created songs that don't fit into any label and created a record that defies critics to like it; the whistle that starts Feedback In the Field or the quirky lyrics about the pom-pom girl from the Allouettes. These are normally red flags for fans and reviewers alike, but this young Montreal band manage to hook you with their originality and talent and you start to realize that you like the songs because of these things, not in spite if them.

Plants & Animals are playing here in Vancouver on March 26 @ the Media Club and it will be fantastic.
[MP3]:: Feedback in the Field

Update - B(oo)log has a great live concert up of the P & A show in Kingston on Oct.12/07. Go over and download it and check out the plethora of live material he has online.
[MP3]:: Feedback in the Field (live)
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