Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reviews:: The Joel Plaskett Emergency - Ashtray Rock

When I'm doing reviews for the hill, I try and do them objectively. Well, I should clarify that. When I'm sent promo's to review, I try and approach them objectively. However, often I request said promos from bands I want to review, and if I'm reviewing a-non promo album, chances are it's a band/artist that I already like. So is it possible to be objective when you go into the review knowing you like the band or artist? Honestly, I don't know, but I like to think it is. I guess I just try and give my (rather amateurish) perspective on the album, and I'm hoping that's all people are looking considering they're reading (or more likely, not reading) a review done by an un-paid author on a site where I once wrote an open letter to a lady who had a huge hole in the ass of her jeans.

Now, after babbling on for far too long about how wonderfully objective I am, I have to say that it will probably be impossible to be objective for the Joel Plaskett Emergency's new album, Ashtray Rock. As we've mentioned on the hill before, the Ack and I went to high school with Joel, as well Ian and Rob who were in the Hermit with Joel and now make up the core of the phenomenon that is Camouflage Nights. Other than giving me a chance to name-drop, why is this relevant? Well Ashtray Rock is a concept album about the rock & roll tribulations of high school romance in Clayton Park. It's also about the partying you do with your friends as a teenager, and the role music plays in that. In fact, the Ashtray is a real spot (an actual rock at that, dig that entendre!) in Clayton Park where plenty of kids drank & smoked cigarettes in their formative years.

Given that I've enjoyed all of Joel's previous albums, it was pretty safe to assume I was going to like this one. And I certainly do. Not only for all the good high school memories it invokes, but mainly because it's a great album. There are riffs-aplenty to be had here as many of the songs evoke memories of Thrush Hermit or some of the rockers on Down At The Khyber. The anthemic Drunk Teenagers kicks things off with big guitars and handclaps as a backdrop for a perfect description of a teenage Saturday night in Halifax back in the day. Joel has some friends like Two Hours Traffic join him on sing-along duty, and that certainly helps with the party vibe. But unquestionably, the highlight for me is the line about celebrated Fairview eccentric Dave Boyd helping Joel score some liquor from the Bayers Road shopping mall. Dave Boyd would often go on LC runs for us in High School, so by including this tidbit on the first song, Joel is pretty much guaranteeing my approval.

Fashionable People sounds a bit off-beat, with it's guitar stabs, little bubbling drums, and Joel's falsetto in the chorus describing the perils of popularity as a teenager, but it works. Snowed In was apparently a song Thrush Hermit would play live, but it finds a home here as a pulsing rocker with a very catchy chorus. Face Of The Earth is really a beautiful song about the coming of winter, and by extension, the end of summer mirroring the end of a young love affair. It starts with just Joel singing along with an acoustic before things pickup at the minute mark with drums and tambourine helping up the tempo and emotion of the song. Very nicely done.

Nothing More To Say opens with a bit of a tongue and cheek homage to the Mamas and the Papas, and shows Gordie Johnson's producing touch with the sweeping strings in the chorus, bit of a different sound for Joel. I don't know if all the reminiscing got Joel going, but his vocals seem laced with more emotion than usual. The end of Nothing More To Say shows this as you certainly feel like he's singing to someone specific. Chinatown/For The Record also utilizes some lovely strings to great effect, as Joel has crafted a beautiful song of regret and apology.

The Instrumental is in fact an instrumental rocker, save for a monologue done by Joel's wife Rebecca Kratz. You'd think this would be the perfect opportunity to work in some kind of crack about Buck 65's french wife, but you'd be wrong. Or perhaps I just did, either way, we'll move on. The album finishes up with a hidden acoustic outro track which finds Joel musing about the time the aforementioned Dave Boyd ran for school president and asks what happened to him. As far as I know Dave Boyd tried running for political office here in Halifax on a wacky platform that encouraged human-robot marriages. I'm fairly certain Dave is still waiting for his first election win.

Ashtray Rock is a concept album about two friends in a band who fall in love with the same girl, which ultimately leads to the end of both their friendship and their band. The term "concept album" usually raises the same kind of red flag as "remix album" or "live hip hop album", as making good songs often takes a back seat to trying to get the narrative of the concept across to the listener. That isn't an issue on Ashtray Rock. Any song on here can certainly stand on it's own, and when taken as a whole you have perhaps the strongest album of Joel's career. If that's not enough, you get a double dose of Dave Boyd references, and that alone makes Ashtray Rock an album not to be missed.

mp3:: Drunk Teenagers

Posted at 10:39 PM by naedoo :: 1 comments

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At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Paul did sayeth:

Haha, I enjoyed this review immensely. Especially from your perspective of being someone aside from Joel who experienced the theme of the album.

Also, filled in some of the blanks for me like the Dave Boyd references and the Bayers Road shopping mall.

I agree with you on 'Nothing More To Say'. I think it's possibly the best song on the album and you can really feel the passion as it nears the end.


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