One of my saddest musical moments was when I found out one of Canada’s best bands ever, Choke, broke up. Luckily, Shawn Moncrieff is a compulsive songwriter.
Choke was together for 13 years, blazing a trail of constantly-evolving tech-punk that has had an incredible influence on me and a lot of Canadian punk bands. From their early days as speedy skate-punks to the semi-conceptual, staggeringly-intricate and emotional latter albums they never hit a wrong note…pretty incredible considering how many of them there were.
Now we have Passenger Action, featuring Moncrieff in the role of one of the primary songwriters once again. Admittedly, the product is not much different. In fact, there are many ways in which it might be hard to tell the difference between the two bands. But where Choke flourished in experimentation, their sound a furious combination of four incredibly advanced musicians challenging each other to reach the next plateau, Passenger Action almost comes off as a continuation of their later sounds. Almost, because the new members are clearly not yet on the same wavelength as those that came before.
Where the two guitarists once competed to come up with the next jaw-dropping riff, they’ve now settled into roles: one plays the dynamic, complex clusters of notes that are so key to the sound of both groups while one provides a meatier, power chord-based heft to back it up. The drums stick to more consistent tempos, no longer reinventing themselves at the drop of a sixteenth note only to leave the listener frantically trying to following along.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no less satisfying a listen. Moncrieff remains a gifted songwriter and lyricist and a unique singer. He writes songs that are as emotionally complex as any tune about a girl, but in his world his bands stand in for the women. From the first track (the note-perfect “Tonight We Resonate”) he’s off and running; it reads like an affirmation the band could have been performing backstage before their shows every night for the last two years, the players akin to heavyweight fighters with the hoods on their robes up and their gloves taped down, mentally preparing themselves for another night of full-contact rock. “To Credit The Archives” takes a similar tone, Moncrieff acknowledges the transitional state, insisting there’s no disguise in his songwriting; he’s just doing what comes naturally.
Elsewhere, he lets the tone and texture of the songs speak for themselves. “(Good Ones Are Hard To Come By)” floats in with a quick-but-delayed guitar figure that could fit in well with any of the last three albums Moncrieff has released. Joined soon by splashy, delicate cymbals it becomes the most beautiful moment of music he’s written. Lasting little more than a minute and a half its gone, having left a mark you’ll feel even when his insistent, yearning vocals crash back in on the next track.
I can only imagine dedicating your life to something for 13 years and then having to reconcile the fact that its gone for good all of a sudden. Passenger Action seems to suggest that Moncrieff is taking his time figuring out what his next move is going to be. I won’t begrudge someone for doing something they do so well, and I definitely won’t complain if he continues to follow a songwriting muse thats similar to what inspired so many epic and incredible Choke songs. I guess what I’m saying is that wherever this fallout leader goes, I’ll be right behind him.
Passenger Action and the band’s first EP are available at My Merch Table dot com.