Taken By Canadians’ eponymous album has depth, it’s got breath, it walks with the sophistication of a street merchant cat. It remains sultry, illustrious, and dirty to the bitter end.
It is a swirling collection of songs that sensually unravels and reveals a world of debauchery, heartbreak, and the age-old existential crisis of “will I ever mean a fuck” (via their song “Worth It”). This particular album sees the band maturing to a creative high-point, with well-crafted songwriting, and a sonic leap that demonstrates their increasingly expansive sound pushing beyond the world of their folk rock beginnings.
The exploration of this new sound commences right out the gate with “The River.” Like a travelogue, it dances with a rhythmical proverb harkening back to Lou Reed’s solo work. It trades out what would have been a predictably hooky chorus for some fiery telecaster riffs, and a bridge for a beautiful melodic keyboard passage at 2:20. The band subtly tightens its grip on the rhythm and pushes the dreamy passage into a crescendo freakout with Ben Ambrosini screaming into the void of oblivion. “The River,”a tinge of 70’s country rock whisked with some sweat less New York attitude and a bit of psychedelia, succeeds in crafting a distinct sonic palette that forms the basis for the rest of the album.
The next track, “Get Lost,” is a song for grim mornings where things are not quite going your way. It’s a sermon when you need a little spiritual uplifting. It’s playful, it puts a little swing in your step, and it lets you know everything is mighty fine in the kingdom of lost sheep. Here the “Canadians” demonstrate their uncanny ability to put the listener at ease. Their rhythm section of Marco Savoi and Tristan Faulk-Webster doesn’t force the band’s musical agenda. Marco grooves with a carefree intelligence of knowing, without hesitation, the song and how to lead a dance. Tristan chooses his fills carefully while never leaving the pocket, and does a terrific job of accentuating Marco’s grooves without crowding them.
Ben Ambrosini (vox/guitar) and Anna Zinova (vox/keys/violin) are also a match made in heaven. At 4:23 in “San Francisco” you can hear the care they’ve taken in structuring their instrumental passages. Anna’s piano begins by comping with chordal accents over Ben’s melodic soloing; slowly they trade arpeggiated phrases and then pivot into a rocking ending. It’s these types of passages and structures that expand the band’s sound, giving their music more depth while the lyrics and melodies continue to articulate the moods of the song. The music is compelling; it remains accessible without sacrificing any artistic merit, a truly difficult endeavor to accomplish. The “Canadians” have found a way on this record to perform a musical hypnosis by cleverly navigating compositions that are both pleasing to the ear while tactfully subverting expectations for the listeners who are willing to look beyond the surface.
This is not to say they’ve forgotten how to play derelict rock and roll. “Side of the Road” sees the band in a smoke filled juke joint with sailors and virgins dancing, a game of roulette in their eyes. It’s a song to start a bender with, the song that plays in the back of your mind as you sit down for a hand of poker with the devil. Ambrosini issues a warning with a cool, howling vibrato, “going to leave my mind on the side of the road,” or in other words there ain’t no conscious man driving this car tonight. The band ravenously inspires participation in a world of sin and drums up nothing but trouble on this little ditty.
The crown jewel, the ruby, the diamond in the rough and magnum opus of the record is most certainly “The River, Part 2.” It’s an exuberant ride down to a moonlit river where the revelation and beauty of life is unimaginable and unpredictable. “Who will save your soul” is a harrowing but honest question Ambrosini’s voice belts out into the darkness of the world. It sums up the record as a voyage to attain something beyond the reach of human turmoil. The ride taken on “The River’s” metaphor is a state of mind in which we accept the flow of its natural process because the current has no arrival, no end. Taken by Canadians has accepted the flow of the river and forges new sounds and lands beyond their previous incarnations. For now, the place they’ve left us in their voyage is quite astounding and one we will continue to discover, time and time again, as we wait for them to retrieve us, and take us to places we’ve never known and maybe just maybe even “save our souls.”
Review by: Rory Morison [www.listensd.com]