Monday, August 10, 2009

Reviews:: Octoberman Fortresses

It’s not too often that we talk about our personal lives here on the hill. We know you don’t care who links the MP3 writes the reviews, let alone what’s going on in their lives, but in this case I wanted to use this forum to express heartfelt thanks to a group of people.

Last Sunday, Nic and I welcomed Cillian Christian Acker into the world and within three days of being born, he was getting prepped for open-hearted surgery. All of the joy of seeing our son was constantly attacked by the thought that he might not make it through, or suffer from the complications of surgery.

During the week, we have been extremely fortunate. The staff – doctors, aids, nurses – at the IWK have kept a watchful eye on our little guy, helped him, let us sleep for a precious few minutes and yesterday he moved up to the step down unit and took another huge step towards coming home. Obviously with that weight heavy on my mind, writing music reviews was probably the last thing on my mind, but I’m back at work today and the cover of Marc Morrisette’s – aka Octoberman - new record, Fortresses, tugged heavily on my heart strings.

Jeffrey Lee’s cover art transports you back in time, to an era when selfless nurses were left to manage patients when medical technology didn’t hold all the answers, and when Marc starts singing about a selfless nurse on I Know a Nurse, I can’t help but think of the amazing people that have helped us this week and this is my little way of saying thanks.

MP3:: Octoberman – I Know a Nurse

I’ve been writing about Octoberman for years it seems and each release shows a new side of Marc's song writing. Morrissette started his solo career with his collection of stripped down, acoustic tales of travel that were penned in train stations, hostels and buses but his songs have evolved into muscular, full band, fleshed out sonic explorations. Instead of relishing the solitude and alienation of a young man in a foreign land, Morrissette has grown into a band leader, combining intriguing textures and personnel and embracing the camaraderie of studios full of friends.

Fortresses comes out swinging, as Marc and his band hit critics and fickle fans with a punchy, indie rock retort. The Backlash uses some harmonies and a catchy guitar hook as a backdrop and gives Morrissette the chance to ask why bloggers/fans would waste their time hating a band. Slowly and assuredly, the band gathers strength (especially the group vocals which I think come courtesy of Ottawa’s The Soiree) and fights back. I know musicians penning tracks counterattacking critics is nothing new, but it shows that Fortresses is more than another look into Marc’s private world.

What follows are eleven more songs full of cameos, new sounds, risks and rewards. Dancing With Yer Ghost is a slowed down romp, but they toss into loose guitar riffs, trumpets and the sludgy track moves and sways like a shapeless, organic mass. The same can be said about the sprawling epic, I Know a Nurse. The band really thickens up the track with heavy guitar work and Marc’s emotional vocals. The new found desire to push the limits of a song really will help the band deliver a more exciting live set and prevent the record from becoming stagnant. The band easily finds grooves and lets them ride (Temptation is a Bloody Mess and 5I are impossible to turn off) and gives you little moments of accessibility and lightness before wandering off on another sonic journey.

Morrisette has always been able to pen an ear pleasing folk song, but with the additional support his songs grab you instantly. Leah Abramson's vocal support on the acoustic heavy, steel guitar ditty Trapped in Your New Scene and well placed flourishes of instrumentation help the simple little riff blossom. More importantly, the bolder arrangements make folksy ditties like Thirty Reasons and I Was Wrong seem even more precious.

Fortresses is the type of record that you sink into as easily as a comfy couch, but it’s only when you look at Marc’s catalog that you really appreciate the strides he’s made in a slight three years. His songs are stronger, as is his control of tempo and mood. The joy of recording with a busload of friends spills over and really gives the record that extra breath of life (even with his blue subject matter) that is so often lost in today’s morose, melancholic world.

Marc and the band will be back in town for Halloween and I'd highly recommend checking him out, especially if he brings the talented Abramson Singers with him.
  • Oct 31 Sackville, NB @ Strutt's Gallery
  • Nov 1 Halifax, NS @ tba

MP3:: Octoberman - Thirty Reasons
BUY:: white whale records

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