It’s not often that a band is defined by its label, but in the somewhat loose case of Arts & Crafts, every band shares a common thread: Broken Social Scene. Stars, Jason Collett, Apostle of Hustle, Feist, KC Accidental — yup, they’re all linked through the intertangled web of Toronto’s best-known supergroup. Or so it was until now. Thanks to The Most Serene Republic, the Canadian indie label is now expanding, welcoming acts from outside the little family. And if Underwater Cinematographer is any indication, that was a good decision on their part.
But, I must say, it’s hard not to bring up the “B” word when talking about MSR. They have a similar knack for taking the kitchen sink approach to every song. No genre is left unturned. No song is without its dozens of musical tricks. A drum track drops out in place of a breakbeat here. A full-band arrangement is dropped in favor of a sole acoustic guitar strum. And a soupy electronic melody somehow morphs into three-chord guitar rock. There seems to be almost no rhyme or reason to MSR’s method. And that’s all part of the fun.
On a song like “Content Was Always My Favorite Color,” the band seems to go in dozens of different directions, all in the course of four minutes. But then they confound expectations by playing a fairly straightforward rock song in “(Oh) God.” Yet, they find themselves somewhere in the middle by the time they get to “The Protagonist Suddenly Realizes What He Must Do In the Middle of Downtown Traffic.” Pretty twinkling pianos, waves of synth, simple guitar chords and no less than three vocal tracks seem to trample all over each other at once. It’s an enjoyable mess, there’s no disputing that, but it is an exhausting one.
If The Most Serene Republic has a fault, it’s that they err on the side of too ambitious. There are clearly several moments when they try to cram too much into one piece of music, and ultimately, it becomes too easy to get lost and lose patience with the band. When it works, however, like on the sublime “Where Cedar Nouns and Adverbs Walk,” it’s an impressive and powerful package. And there are far more highlights than missteps. They’ve shown incredible ambition and great promise in this debut release. With a little snip in the right places, they could easily release a record on caliber with You Forgot It In People. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.