The indie rock collective within Toronto and Montreal (and most notably that of the Arts & Crafts label) is as incestuous as it is impressively talented. The north of the border music scene has been ripe for some time now but the musicians seem to have kept a family oriented mindset with regards to their creative process. In other words, band members are shared instead of coveted, every member has the opportunity to be the front man and side projects morph themselves into musical powerhouses as opposed to friendly favors.
Such is the case with Toronto’s Apostle of Hustle. The group, driven by the ingenuity of Andrew Whiteman (best known for his six string role in Broken Social Scene) released their first album Folkloric Feel in the summer of 2004 to subtle critical praise. However, while Folkloric Feel showed more than promise from an already accomplished musician, there was certainly an ingredient missing as the songs tended to hold a little; ending before they could reach the expectations that would come from the brain of a conductor the likes of Whiteman. With The National Anthem of Nowhere, Whiteman lays all his cards on the table and crafts an undeniably euphonic record appealing to a bottom well of tastes.
A chest thumping bassline and soft, fluttering riff evolves into a scattering surprise of shimmering pop on the lead off track “My Sword Hand’s Anger.” Minutes into the album and already Apostle of Hustle achieve the panache that was absent from their previous effort; a resplendent hook worthy of a thousand hums and bordering on the quirkiness of a pre-War on Terror Ted Leo.
Like the gaze of a subway stranger across the platform, the title track of the album inaugurates in a diligent and mysterious manner. Overdriven slide guitars and a gaiting high hat anchor a track that is bathed in beauty while still clinging to a veil of uncertainty. The calamity of aural dystopia breaks mid-way through, leaving just a boy and his guitar, awkwardly fingered and oddly soothing; a vision of a child discovering music for the first time rushes to the forefront of your mind.
Eerie and crooked mechanical piano plucks spread themselves throughout “The Naked and Alone,” a more than clever tune that rides a wink of cool through an air of determination. Whiteman’s vocal mirrors that of a turn of the 21st century Thom Yorke, a moan and wail that falls somewhere between tortured and elegant. Familiar to this release is the matriarchal, Latin influence that also enhanced its predecessor. Tracks such as, “Rafaga!”, a poem by Spanish literary giant Federico Garcia Lorca set to music and “Fast Pony for Victor Jara,” a homage to the late Chilean singer/songwriter of the same name, drip with sofrito and expand not only on Apostle of Hustle’s talents but on the genres of folk and flamenco linked to the Latin culture they choose to celebrate.
The shining star on National is a ’50s style pop gem titled “Chances Are,” the kind of weightless and quixotic catch tune that bats clean up on summer mix tapes or finds itself in the background of the credit sequence to Zach Braff’s latest romantic catastrophe. Guilt never sounded this great.
Renaissance tends to happen on an album-to-album basis, usually with years to spare in between. Apostle of Hustle manages to do it with each track, taking new turns within minutes and letting each movement surface as a reminder of the potential they have already attained as opposed to squandered. It’s an album to beat thus far in 2007. Oh Canada, indeed.
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
Radiohead – Kid A
Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel