Family. It’s the backbone of our society. No matter what you do in life, as Tony Soprano has recently shown us, family is the most important thing of all. They support you, inspire you, love you unconditionally and always have your back. A.C. Newman turned to family in his time of need recently, and the gamble paid off. You see, the New Pornographers can never seem to get every original member together for tours. Dan Bejar and Neko Case often have their own projects and tours going on and replacements had to be found. Luckily, Newman had a talented niece named Kathryn Calder. It’d be one thing if Newman’s niece were six years old, tap dancing in a spangly leotard, but the niece in question had to replace the one and only Neko Case; no small feat. Well, some might not know that Calder has another band, one in which she plays an even more pivotal role, that being Immaculate Machine. What might surprise most, as it surprised me, is that the driving melodic pop this trio delivers rivals even Uncy Newman’s band the New Pornographers!
Besides being a family affair, Fables, the latest album from Canada’s Immaculate Machine, is a trainspotter’s dream. Not only is there the one glaring New Pornographers connection, also count the fact that NP member John Collins co-produced the album. Dave Carswell, the other co-producer, is Collins’ buddy from their days in the Evaporators. Several tracks were produced by Colin Stewart, the man behind recordings by Destroyer, Black Mountain, Frog Eyes, Blood Meridian and Pretty Girls Make Graves. Wondering about those lush string arrangements? Well, those are courtesy of Owen Pallett, he of Final Fantasy and the Arcade Fire. And that sharp, natty and masculine background chorus in “Jarhand?” That’s just Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand and his new friends, the Cribs! Take a look at the art in the liner notes and you’ll see another instance of a well-chosen act of nepotism, with drawings by Caitlin Gallupe, the sister of guitarist Brooke Gallupe.
And either despite or because of all of these connections, Fables is one of the more instantly likeable albums of 2007. Gallupe’s guitars range from the tempered quiet of an acoustic to a frenetic jangle-pop jamboree on the electric. Calder’s keys and Luke Kozlowski’s drums provide flourish and backbone respectively, often attempting to steal the spotlight from the driving guitar line. Upon learning that all three members share and rotate vocal duties, and then hearing those voices, I wondered what the purpose was in getting Alex Kapranos in the studio. I haven’t heard this many accomplished voices in one band since Fleetwood Mac, CSNY and the Eagles. (Turns out that Alex, the Cribs and IM were sharing the studio, and Kapranos has been palling around with the Evaporators and all in the studio for a little while now).
The idea behind Fables is that Calder, Gallupe and Kozlowski are creating modern day moral tales about the human condition as opposed to the traditional concept of the fable using animals as personification. IM impart little nuggets of wisdom throughout the album, such as “don’t have to go very far looking for trouble” in the bouncy first single, “Jarhand.” “Dear Confessor” plays like a later X track, when more new wave pop began to invade their punk tendencies. Calder’s sinuous voice smolders throughout “Roman Statues,” further enhanced by Pallett’s string arrangement. “Old Flame” is a reminder of how good Berlin used to be in their early days, male and female vocals overlapping in an appropriately sexy manner. “Small Talk” delves even more into the realm of synth new wave, though by way of Eastern Europe. “Nothing Ever Happens” probably made Alex Kapranos jealous in the studio due to its undeniable energy and hooks. The last few songs take on a different tone, slow and serious, but make for some of the most dramatic on the album, such as the building intensity of “C’mon Sea Legs.” Gallupe sings about not being able to get used to the changing of the tides, and willing himself to not “get sick over the sides.” So, not only is Fables an album that will entertain and force your body into motion, it will also get you thinking and give you well put advice. And isn’t that just like the Canadians? Always giving us more than we asked for.
MP3: “Dear Confessor”