Reviews:: Woodpigeon Treasury Library Canada

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I’ll be honest. In the past I was a bit lukewarm on Woodpigeon. Why? Well, you couldn’t hear mention of the band without the words “orchestral”, “collective” or “Sufjan” being thrown into the mix.

Not that my taste was ever setting trends or on the cusp of “cool”, but the bigger the bands got and the more layers and complexities that were added, well, the less I tended to enjoy the songs. Throw in the quirky long song titles and I wasn’t expecting to like Treasury Library Canada all that much.

But the thing is, Mark Hamilton and the rest of the talented musicians that make up Woodpigeon mix styles, genres and eras so well over the 14-song record, it’s hard not to enjoy the songs. Sure, they are lush and rich, but every note seems to have been identified, extracted, somehow put under a spotlight. These songs don’t using superfluous instruments for the fun of it; every element is heard and contributes instead of simply confusing the composition.

Treasury Library Canada starts as you might expect from a collective, but Knock Knock quickly experiments with a bit more grit when the bands adds a big, meandering solo that darts around the vocals and thumping drums. That lovely contrast to the grandiose sprawl, beautiful harmonies and delicate touches helps you settle into the song and almost forces your heart to beat in time with the percussion. Two minutes into Piano Pieces for Adult Beginners, they add a warm fuzz over the poppy piano line, rapid fire chorus, rim clack percussion and soaring organ and on a casual listen, you’d expect these elements to blend into a indistinguishable cloud, but every player has a chance to say their part and move on, like a quick moving conversation.

For me, the album really comes to life four songs in. Starting with the relatively spare, I Live a Lot of Places, Hamilton slows things down as he pulls the reigns on the speeding gallop the album broke into. Sure there are swirling strings that bookend the track, and beautiful echoing harmonies that add depth to the song, but core of the song is is light and airy, invoking carefree thoughts of youth and freedom. Cities of Weather is as good a summer driving song as you’ll hear (except for the obvious exception) and the surging energy, addictive jangle, and angelic choral backing propel the song forward and show that Hamilton doesn’t force sprawling, epics with countless layers. He’s just as successful at penning straight forward songs that evoke simple emotions and feel a bit more intimate.

On 7th Fret Over the Andres - which starts out like a Sufjan song but quickly evolves into more of a Badly Drawn Boy effort - uses a simple picked riff and horns to frame his other worldly gestures of love, but he approaches that love in a different manner. Hamilton realizes that the truth is sometimes better than the fantasy. He can’t change what’s happened, and honestly, he wouldn’t want to. It’s a simple idea but that reality grounds the song and makes it more appealing than if it had been another track of all the things we’d do for love. It’s written for one person and focuses on specific events and ironically, that is why it will appeal to everyone.

The rest of the record is just as easy to enjoy as the band explores both vast terrains and intimate spaces. Love in the Time of Hopscotch adds a summery familiarity and comfort to the equation, and the result is an uptempo pop song that sticks into your brain on the first listen. Now You Like Me How? benefits from a simple, rootsy guitar line (but the catchy noodle that creeps in near the end is terrific) and focusing the spotlight on Hamilton’s lyrics, but really almost every song on this record floats by enjoyably.

You never get weighed down by the size of the project or subject matter. Woodpigeon has helped smash the stereotypes I have about Canadian collectives and created a record I can’t stop listening to. All in all, that’s two pretty powerful accomplishments for this Alberta band.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 5th, 2008 at 10:35 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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