Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Back when European settlers first arrived on what would become Canada's smallest province, the act of claiming one's territory was a back-breaking act of survival. Over the last few years, Two Hours Traffic has gone in the reverse direction to claim their territory: heading out into the vast musical wilderness of our big-ass country to stake their claim as the best young band in Canada.
As that bit of semi-strained metaphor-ary indicates, THT's new album is called Territory, and if it doesn't put them at the top of that hypothetical "best young band" list, they're certainly in the conversation. I mean there are plenty of great bands in Canada, but how many are comprised of members as young as the fellas in THT, and have consistently produced such finely crafted songs? This shouldn't be a complete surprise, as the band has been under the tutelage of Joel Plaskett, a master of song craft himself, for a while now. Although Joel was back to produce Territory, credit must be given to Liam Corcoran, Alec O'Hanley, Andrew MacDonald, and Derek Ellis for delivering when the pressure was on. A Polaris short-list nomination in 2008 meant expectations were way up, and THT has come through in the clutch.
After all my "best young band" talk, it seems kind of trite and obvious to say that THT's sound has matured, but I think it has. It says something that my favorite songs on the album are slower paced ones like Wicked Side, Just Listen, and Lost Boys rather than the more uptempo ones they are known for and that I would normally gravitate too. But never fear, there are still plenty of the uptempo, harmony-filled rockers that THT fans will be expecting, and a looser, rockier feel has been added to songs like Happiness Burns, and that's a good thing.
Peppy album opener Noisemaker is one of those rockers, akin to Little Jabs' Nighthawks, and it's a riff-heavy ode to those loud mouth scene crashers that bring everyone down. The afore-mentioned Wicked Side is simply a fantastic song - it's simple, yet really well written, and a bouncy bassline provides the backbone for an addictive track that brings in the handclaps at just the right time. This is easily one of my favorite songs from '09. The title track, on the other hand, is a perfect example of why THT are awesome: loud guitars, supremely singable hooks, and fantastic work from the rhythm section - I could listen to the drum fills alone from this song all day long.
Weightless One is another keeper in the classic THT mold, with lighter than air harmonies telling the story of a directionless love interest. Another of my favorite songs on the album is a bit of a departure: Just Listen has a drum track that sounds somewhat like an 80's drum machine, but its clearly & cleverly written and has a chorus that soars. I've played this one a lot.
Compared to what one might have heard from THT in the past, the latter portion of Territory is a change of pace, a little more subdued. The somewhat anti-booze anthem Drop Alcohol shows that the band can create a sing-along without loud, pacy riffs, and the rollicking campfire feel of Lost Boys makes it stand out somewhat for me. it might just be me, but the playful Sing A Little Hymn seems to have Plaskett fingerprints all over it, from the little Casio backbeat to the playful, metaphysical lyrics - it's the kind of thing Joel does better than most. This is a good attempt at it, but I'm not sure they nailed it.
As I mentioned in my preview for this album, I've been on the THT bandwagon for a while now, and Territory has nothing to make me want to get off. If anything, I'm on the bandwagon gathering supplies to build some kind of shelter, a shack or lean-to perhaps, so I can bunker down for the long haul with THT. If you've never been on their bandwagon, have a listen to this album and then hop here with me so we can simply nod smugly when the "best of" and Polaris-like praise starts rolling in for this one.
MP3:: Two Hours Traffic - Territory
VIDEO:: Two Hours Traffic - Happiness Burns