When I saw the name of the band and the album title on the digipak, I just had to laugh. While the inside joke might have been funny to me, I’m sure that the seven members of this new Michigan based band weren’t thinking the same thing. You see, I had a roommate in college; an incredibly quirky philosophy major (oxymoron, I know) that had a theory that every band named after a place was automatically terrible. For a while he had a point. Chicago, Alabama, Europe, Asia and, if we’re counting mythological sites, Styx were all fairly laughable. But, in the few short years since that time (ok, ok, in the incredibly long time since college as I’ve become incredibly old), that theory has been refuted time and again thanks to Idlewild, Okkervil River, Manitoba, Alaska, Of Montreal and Beirut. This year, Canada puts the exclamation mark on the refutation of the theory, a stigma which could easily have been called, This Cursed House. This chamber pop septet has done as much for curses as the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and the result has never sounded as sweet.
Canada is self-described, or at least by their publicist, as a mix of the Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens. And while every indie band worth their salt would want to find themselves in the middle of that scenario, the description does somewhat have merit with Canada. Dueling cellos, glockenspiels, melodicas, accordions, harmonicas and sleighbells dot the landscape of this album that evokes thoughts of Midwestern farms with rocking chairs and fires in the hearth. This Cursed House opens with the sound of crickets, cowbell, distant voices and footsteps through the foliage before turning into “Beige Stationwagon,” a song that starts out a little bit Uncle Tupelo and ends up a little bit Decemberists. The German translation of the title track follows and is one of the album’s many highlights, like a blend of Devotchka and Beirut.
The next track that really grabs your attention is “Record Function,” a piece of music that benefits from strings and the combined voices of every member of the band. “The King’s Ashes” recalls the best morose music from the Court & Spark. “Look to the Trees” carries as ecological a message as the work from whence came the title, which I’m certain is from The Lord of the Rings, though I could be wrong. It’s happened once or twice. “Vorhies” follows, picking up right where “Trees” left off, though just with cellos, making me wonder whether there’s a spinoff album in Amy Sumerton and Eileen Brownell’s futures. My wife’s favorite instruments are piano and cello, and after “Vorhies,” it’s easy to hear why, at least for one of the two. “Madisonville, KY” builds up nicely with a steady layering of instruments and voices, which can at times sound like the evocative harmonizing of the Eagles in their heyday.
There are a handful of instrumental tracks throughout This Cursed House which break up the vocal tracks into digestible batches, while also showcasing the band’s considerable musical abilities. Then, of course, there are songs like “As Dry As Bone” and “Cold Mouse Winter” which combine all of their talents, beautiful chamber pop, lyrical prowess and vocal delicateness. By the time you’ve come full circle with the sound of the fall Michigan night on “Automne,” you feel like you’ve been a part of something magical. And despite my old college roommate’s theoretical curse, Canada come across smelling, if not like a rose, at least like a maple leaf. And although Canada isn’t actually their `home and native land,’ we listeners `with glowing hearts see thee rise!’ Maybe we should change the lyrics to “O Canada, our great Midwestern band!”
Devotchka- How It Ends
Page France- Hello, Dear Wind
Sufjan Stevens- A Sun Came