It has not been too long to remember
Said The Whale could be coasting right now. Coming off a phenomenally well-received full-length album in 2009 the BC band has been pushing through several cross-Canada tours, dropped into the States for an extensive sojourn that included an appearance at SXSW, and won a Juno for New Group Of The Year. And while it hasn’t been without it’s low points, that’s a pretty good year or two, you guys!
Regardless, it appears the band’s creative streak is also in full effect. Today marks the release of a new EP called New Brighton, the precursor to another full-length album set to come out in the new year. In just four songs it’s readily apparent they’re moving on to bigger and better things. Things being songs.
“Camilo (The Magician)” was the break-out single from their first record, Islands Disappear, but I always felt like “Out On The Shield” was a better representation of what Said The Whale is capable of. In under three minutes it speaks to Canadian geography, the legacy of remote territories, and the workers and jobs that are tied to them. It also does it with a brisk tempo, upbeat choral vocals, and a flawless, cascading melody. It’s all the band’s potential rolled into one.
New Brighton succeeds because it parses out each of the elements that made that song work, puts them into four new songs, and expands on them.
Single “Lines” boasts a terrifically bouncy backbeat, driving along a pure pop melody that is brilliantly reinforced with jaunty keyboards. Call it a power-pop number with a little less power, the cooing “ooh-la-la-la” background vocals reminiscent of a purer era of pop music that feels right at home alongside the group’s modern sound. The gentle grace of the song dovetails delightfully with the EP’s closer, “Little Bird.” It’s a slow and easy folk song comprised of a patiently-strummed acoustic guitar, strings, and the band’s beloved glockenspiel that gives the brief album a sense of finality that brings the whole package to a close.
In my mind though the money track here is “Sandy Bay Fishing Song,” a song that echoes “Out On The Shield”‘s Canadiana storytelling, a title that technically could refer to specific locations in Saskatchewan or Manitoba but, I’m sure, actually pertains to Nova Scotia. The actual setting of the song itself appears to be Halkett Bay in BC, which would be closer to the band’s Vancouver home. Regardless, it’s a virtuosic tale of a young man kissing his mother goodbye and venturing out under the cover of dark to go after the sea’s largest catchable foes, carrying on a legacy created by his father. It’s a tale that anyone who’s ever worked a rod and reel can relate to but it’s rendered as high-drama thanks to a heavily-percussive arrangement filled with calculating drum fills, punctuated guitar stabs, and some slinky bass slides. The vocals on the chorus also soar to nearly rhapsodic heights, particularly leading into a brilliant beat-shifting bridge.
In my mind, while all the songs of New Brighton are memorable in their own way, Said The Whale continues to be at it’s most effective when it’s capturing these tableaus of Canadiana, rendering them vivid as a vision and real as a spray of sea foam in the Howe Sound.
Here’s hoping with Little Mountain, a 15-song affair on the way in March, they continue to push that unique vision. If the track “Big Sky, MT” is any indication they might even be expanding it.
America should be so lucky.
New Brighton can be purchased through iTunes so far but I know there are CDs that exist because I got sent one in advance.