Concentrate on we
Their story goes like this: Laura Smith and Andrew Braun spent time working with popular west coasters like Said The Whale, Hannah Georgas, and Dan Mangan. Striking up their own musical kinship, they recruited Shaun Huberts and Johnny Andrews, the rhythm section that has backed up Tegan & Sara the last few years. The end result is an album that is, if nothing else, compelling. The songs are admirably and carefully formed and the contributions of each member seem to be immediately clear even as they weave their deft compositions together.
The album’s intro sets the stage, introducing not only the band’s precise instrumental work but also the synthesized drum beats and digital atmospherics that pop up now and again on the record. The first proper song “Dreams” lets the listener know that the keen pop edge present in each member’s heritage work has been refined even further, throwing vocal hooks and handclaps into the mix in calculated spots. Smith’s keyboards become the most prominent element at times, especially on standout singles like “Weapon” and “Empire.” The keys are textured in a way that makes them stand out even more, especially when set against the crisp, pristine production.
Huberts and Andrews have proven vital to Tegan & Sara’s sound as that duo has evolved and they remain a well-matched pair here, their terrific instincts providing a lock-step rhythm that really complements the songs. The slinky, subtle shifts and shuffles of a T&S song like “The Ocean” are here in spades. But while their contribution is unimpeachably solid they mostly seem to function as background players here, ceding the spotlight to Smith and Braun.
While most of the songs here are finely layered rock pieces, Rococode does attempt to demonstrate their versatility through the pseudo-interpolation of “Concentrate On You,” a stripped-down take on album opener “Concentrate On Me.” The first version is a terrific up-tempo opener, a piano-driven rock and roll stomper with open-throated, layered vocals and compressed snare drums; the second is a vaguely-morose sounding alternate take with just Smith and Braun’s vocals and a lazily strummed acoustic guitar, the whole thing washed in reverb and lasting a third the run-time of the first take. It seems like an unnecessary after-thought, killing the momentum of the preceding “Dreams” before the majestic assertiveness of “Death Of A Payphone,” like a musical speed bump laid between the two much more energetic numbers. It’s a rare moment of unnecessary excess, a minor mis-step, but one the listener might not expect from an album whose details are clearly so carefully considered. It’s doubly unnecessary when the title track and the pair of “Ghost” songs do quiet and contemplative in an infinitely more effective way that also seems truer to the rest of the record.
The album was recorded by Ryan Guldemond of Mother Mother; he (and his band) absolutely has a unique, vaguely-animalistic style and sound that has left an indelible mark on Guns, Sex & Glory. It manifests most clearly in the sometimes yelping, sometimes wordless ululations that make up some of the vocal fills, sudden tempo or tone shifts, and the raw callous-on-string texture of the acoustic guitars. I could be way off-base but I feel like all of those elements (especially the raw-throated scream of “Blood”) come at Guldemond’s behest — in a good way. They work together to help prevent the songs from feeling too antiseptic, too cautiously formed.
Rococode’s collection of songs is impressive. Saying it’s enjoyable is absolutely an understatement. Still, one has to wonder if their best work is still ahead of them. As accomplished as these arrangements are one gets the sense that the whole is still just the sum of its parts and that this effort has been at least partially shaped by it’s producer. I guess what I mean is that it doesn’t feel like a cohesive group effort; many songs are distinct from each other, as though they originated from different places.
The real takeaway though is this: a group this talented is capable of big things, regardless of where they’re starting out from. I can’t wait to see where they go next.
Find purchase links for the record at Rococode’s web site. Or, better yet, see them live on their upcoming tour and buy it straight from their sweaty hands!
Feb 17 – Vancouver, BC – CBC Toque Sessions
Feb 17 – Vancouver, BC – Café Deux Soleils
Feb 24 – Nelson, BC – Hume Hotel Spiritbar
Feb 25 – Kelowna, BC – Global Music Fest
Feb 26 – Lethbridge, AB – The Slice
Feb 28 – Edmonton, AB – Wunderbar
March 1 – Saskatoon, SK – Amigo’s
March 2 – Winnipeg. MB – Lo Pub
March 3 – Thunder Bay, ON – Crocks
March 7 – Montreal, PQ – Divan Orange
March 8 – Peterborough, ON – Red Dog
March 9 – Ottawa, ON – Mavericks
March 10 - Quebec City, PQ – Le Scanner
March 13 – Charlottetown, PEI – Baba’s
March 14 – St Andrews, NB – Red Herring
March 15 – Fredericton, NB – Capital Complex
March 16 – Halifax, NS – Grawood
March 21 – Hamilton, ON – Casbah Lounge
March 22-24 – Toronto, ON – CANADIAN MUSIC FEST
March 26 – St Catharines, ON – Mansion House
March 29 – Regina, SK – Artful Dodger
March 30 – Calgary, AB – The Gateway
April 4 – Vancouver, BC – Electric Owl
April 6 – Victoria, BC – Lucky Bar