Monday, June 30, 2008

Reviews:: Elliott Brood Mountain Meadows

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With the release of Mountain Meadows, Elliott Brood continues to muddy the lines between what they are and what they aren't. Right off the bat, you can't help but hear the statement the band makes with the title of the new record.

If you ask anyone, the band included, you'd never hear a peep about them being a political band but you can't side step the grim history of the massacre; not when the site marks the spot where a Mormon militia ran through a wagon train of emigrants and left 120 dead.

But even knowing that the event affected song writers Mark Sasso and Corey Laforet, you realize the ideas and messages that stuck in their minds were not of political standoffs and anger. There is no mention of right and wrong. Instead they explored hurt and wonder. It's all to easy to point fingers and lay blame when these tragedies occur, but Mark and Corey look passed that and ask what happened to the kids that were allowed to live. Instead of why, the band asks, "what happened next" or "how did life end up for them?"

It's a bold choice, and one that helps the band shake free of the labels so often thrown on them. Death country. Urban hillbilly. These terms no longer apply, as the band bobs and weaves across genres and emotion, adding textures and wrinkles that prevent the songs they've written from ever being type casted, even with the most bizarre monikers. The trio still surges forward with distorted guitars that counterbalance the acoustic resonance (Garden River pulses with energy and actually feels alive at times), but their chops have gotten stronger. Without Again is a simple song, one that doesn't rely on energy and adrenaline and is also one of the most accessible enjoyable on the album.

And that's probably the thing that grabs me on Mountain Meadow. Despite their previous critical successes (their debut LP - Ambassador - was nominated for a Juno), Elliott Brood is often described as a terrific live band that falls short on record. While I've never agreed with these sentiments, the trio has worked hard to make a record that has the spirit and swagger of a live show, but still allow for repeatable listens. Write it all Down For and Chuckwagon are sweaty stomps track that will fuel sets for years to come, but the band has learned how to transform energetic tracks destined for the stage into songs that reward the headphone listener as well.

They've added new instrumentation without compromising the acoustic echoes and suitcase drum stomp that won over fans from the beginning. T-bill starts with a militant march, but the contrasting banjo that drives the song is actually ear pleasing and soothing and allows the band to add big long guitar notes and ohs and ahs. Woodward Avenue explodes out of the gate, daring you to sit still but the horns and piano line soften the track at just the right moments.

Every song on the record is a complete thought, not just a sweat soaked riffs or bar room anthems. That's why a summery ditty like The Valley Town can stand side by side the more energetic numbers and not seem out of place or undeserving of a listen. It doesn't need more than claps and stomps, but the band adds some terrific horn work to finish the song. Even the album has a well thought out conclusion, a surging, love song - Miss You Now - that takes us all back to our first loves, and seems certain to become a CBC Radio 3 staple for the next few years.

After a few listens you start to realize everything you though you knew about the Toronto trio is still true, it's just been augmented and added to. They are no longer just a fantastic live band and no longer a country band with crazy distortion and a cloud of black hovering over their pens. No, in the end Elliott Brood is just a band, but they just happen to be one of the most exciting ones in Canada.

Posted at 7:49 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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