As a band with a big, interchangeable lineup, an expansive sound and a record deal with Arts & Crafts, the members of The Most Serene Republic must have felt destined to toil forever in the shadow of Broken Social Scene. But, hey, if you can’t beat `em, use their producer.
For their third full-length album …And the Ever Expanding Universe, The Most Serene Republic worked with producer Dave Newfeld, who has been behind the boards on Broken Social Scene’s output thus far. Whether it was his hands on the mixing board, or just the band maturing and finding their own unique sound, the result is an album of lush, sparkling harmonies that finds The Most Serene Republic carving out their own niche in the Many Membered, Multi-Instrumental Canadian Band landscape.
The Most Serene Republic established their sound on previous albums like 2007’s Population: Soaring vocal harmonies, buoyed by upbeat rhythms played on piano, guitar and the occasionally Latin-inspired drum line. The band was a little bit Arcade Fire, a tiny bit Los Campesinos!, a whole lot like their label mates. This last point was where they drew criticism, namely that they were accused of being too derivative. That might have been true, but The Most Serene Republic were also a lot of fun, and good sign for the group is the way they managed to maintain that youthful enthusiasm on …And the Ever Expanding Universe, while still jelling on a higher level.
For a lot of bands, “maturing” just means toning it down. For The Most Serene Republic, it’s been more about keeping what works, and letting go what doesn’t. While I enjoyed their previous efforts, some of the songs were a little too busy. It was as if the band thought, “We have 8 members and an E-Bow dammit, and they’re all gonna earn their cut!” With this album, the group has since been paired down to 7 members (still got that E-Bow) and they’ve become better at parceling out the pieces. Rather than throwing the horns into every chorus, they come in to spice up the bridge on songs like “Heavens to Purgatory.” Instead of using strings to turn an average song into an anthem, they turn the instrumental “Patternicity” into a miniature chamber symphony.
Influences that weren’t clearly apparent before make themselves known. The band’s harmonies have become less like something you’d hear in a cathedral and more like the meeting place between the Beatles, the Beach Boys and The Shangri-Las. The third track, “Vessels of a Donor Look,” starts off strikingly similar to Death Cab for Cutie’s “Soul Meets Body,” but then veers into a territory all its own. The skittering, sometimes danceable rhythms that gave past Most Serene Republic efforts a lot of charm are wisely kept here, especially on the song “Don’t Hold Back, Feel a Little Longer,” which takes a break form the oceanic vocals and rocks out a bit. Other tracks like “The Old Forever New Things” have a Postal Service pulse that mellows the album out without making it boring.
The Most Serene Republic is a band that’s interested in Big Themes. Religion, greed…the ever expanding universe, they’re all woven through the album’s surreal lyrics. Occasionally, it feels like the group is biting off more than it can chew. When singer Adrian Jewett struggles to hit the high notes on “Phi,” it’s the sound of stunted ambition.
But as one after another, instruments and voices effortlessly snake their way into the building arrangement of “Heavens to Purgatory”—the second and maybe the strongest song on the album—it’s the sound of a band in complete control of its own sound. They are still easily classifiable as an Arts & Crafts band, but one that stands on its own legs, even if they share a producer.