Tuesday, December 30, 2008
With a name like Slow Down, Molasses (which, for the record is awesome), you expect the Saskatoon band to be heavy on lap steel, heartache and alt-country twang. You expect the songs to drip with emotion as creaks and pain filled sighs nestle into the empty spaces left by subtle banjo and mandolins. You expect the folk songs to be influenced by Neil Young. You expect to hear vocals hushed to the point you have to strain to hear them and most importantly, you expect the listen to be heavy and morose.
What you don’t expect is to be caught in the middle of a tug of war between melodic indie anthems, atmospheric haze, sludge rock and more intimate folk and you certainly don't expect to find inspiration. Originally the solo vision of Tyson McShane, Slow Down, Molasses (the band and the songs) has blossomed into a large collective of local musicians with a knack for adding the right element at the right time. It might be as simple as a barely audible, echoing vocal line to start the folky And You With It, Spek of Dust! or the rim shot percussion and simple whistle that grabs you on the beautiful Leaves & Lay or as complex as the surging energy of the strings and thumping percussion on the epic title track, but it’s obvious the band took the time required to get the songs exactly as they wanted.
Although that might make you question the spontaneity of I'm an Old Believer (for the record, when the band jumps into sludgy rockers like Fucked Up the energy still crackles), it’s that patience that makes an album full of diverse instrumentation and styles surprisingly cohesive. The record moves nicely between stripped down folk and atmospheric collages of dream like fuzz (just check out the outro to Sweet Dreams) and exposes the listener to bold transitions and countless rewards.
Integrating 15 musicians onto a twelve song record isn’t easy; especially when the songs originate from a single entity, but the band understands Tyson’s songs and plays off his lead well. While his vocals expose fragility and often appear ready to crack and break, the band uses his voice well – letting the imperfections surface when the emotion peaks and tucking it amongst the arrangements when the melodies take center stage - and resists the urge to overwhelm the listener by simply piling on layer after layer.
I'm an Old Believer is unique, adventurous and incredibly enjoyable. Somehow - like the emerging scene from which they come - the collective manages to smash down your preconceptions but satisfy your expectations with a blend of surprising warmth and cold isolation. Hyperbole aside, and knowing my tastes don't often line up with the norm, this record is a must have.