Photograph by Nick Helderman

I feel a tinge of artistic failure when I dislike something that I know to be beautiful, like an ancient Greek sculpture or a Coen brothers movie. I recognize the appeal and appreciate the aesthetic, but it’s just not for me, which is why I was a bit nervous to discuss my thoughts on the Luyas’ Too Beautiful to Work. The group has a veritable pedigree of Montreal musicians: Jessie Stein is a member of Graham Van Pelt’s band when Miracle Fortress plays live gigs, Pietro Amato plays in Torngat, has contributed to Arcade Fire albums, and is a member of Bell Orchestre alongside Luyas bandmate Stefan Schnieder. Expectations were high for the band’s first release.

The title track of the album suckered me in, obfuscating the album’s ultimate decent into the realm of post-rock with a catchy opening. I proceeded listening with ill-placed expectations of pop/rock perfection, which explains my frustration halfway through the album. The detracting factor is that unlike standard pop, many tunes in Too Beautiful to Work don’t go anywhere: they reject the idea of hitting an apex in favour of precise instrumental work. It’s like riding a very shallow escalator that reverses directions prior to reaching the floor; you follow along dutifully in the rising action and momentum of the music, but then the song retreats into a fading anticlimax, dashing any hope of reaching a peak. While I recognize that it’s the escalator ride that should be enjoyed, with its musical complexity and building mood, I tend to lose sight of these details and keep hoping to reach that climax.

For example, ‘Canary’ is an ensnaring song which brings focus to Stein’s gentle and idiosyncratic voice, but it lacks the final push which could have kicked listeners in the heart. The layered percussion of ‘Tiny Head’ feel psychedelic, but tapers off  without satisfying. Most songs contain unique soundscapes from Amato’s french horn and incredible texture from Stein’s moodswinger (a custom-built modified electric zither), but rarely bring forth a dominant melody using either instrument.

Does Too Beautiful to Work fail to capitalize on its momentum and transcend into pop territory or is it a concerted effort for a constructed musical arrangement? I’m not entirely sure, although I strongly recommend listening to the album in its entirety. Ultimately, it may be that the Luyas’ debut is indeed too beautiful to work within my narrow trapping of pop music. It’s still beautiful, though, and I’ll be sure to catch their next live show in Toronto. I predict that ‘Cold Canada’ will be a paradoxically triumphant yet self-resigned theme to the remainder of our least favourite season.

The Luyas – Too Beautiful to Work
The Luyas – Cold Canada

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— , March 7, 2011    Comments Off on The Luyas: Too Beautiful to Work
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