To reiterate a common cliché; the fear with a sophomore release is always the expectations listeners have built-up from the first album. This is especially problematic for the instantly-adored indie sensations, the Bloc Partys and the MSTRKRFTs of the world. For these bands future releases often fall flat just by virtue of the success of the debut. This however is not the case with the second full-length from Toronto-based, dance-rockers Woodhands.
The duo’s debut Heart Attack was not an album that garnered much immediate attention from myself or that internet echo-chamber of the blogosphere. It was an under the radar release, mostly known by CBC3 devotees and other passionate followers of Canadian indie. However, as understated as the band’s publicity may have been, their music and their live act was anything but.
The pair, comprising of synth and keytarist Dan Werb (a west-coaster and originally the band’s only member) and drummer Paul Banwatt of the Rural Alberta Advantage, began packing small venues in university towns across the country in 2008. The shows were an over the top performance of electro-pop energy. It was as though they knew they had to work twice as hard to relay the same kind of energy as your average four person act. This tactic seemed to pay real dividends however, with the act’s stage presence being accurately described as “super-human.”
Super-human strength worked well to deliver Heart Attack’s material to live audiences. The music was emotionally charged, but the object was to sweat out those emotions in a mass of bodies gyrating to the infectious electro offerings. Remorsecapade has not lost any of that raw energy or emotionality, but it fails to capture and record that energy for the at-home listener. The album comes on too strong and a little too unpolished for a recorded effort.
There are highlights, however. ‘Dissembler’ offers a break from Werb’s monotone delivery bringing back Maylee Todd who guests on Heart Attack’s single ‘Dancer’. Todd’s vocals are like aloe on a sunburn in this cheery dream pop number. Where Heart Attack finds Werb hitting his limits delivering punk rock screams, Remorsecapade seems to have found him backing off quite a bit leaving lyrics uninteresting. ‘Coolchazine’ is a return to form in terms of ambition. This is a complete electro-freakout with Werb singing like he’s actually feeling the emotions he’s singing about. Sonically it can be compared to destroying an arcade with a keytar. Metaphor hint: here and throughout the album heartbreak is referred to as “doubling,” I can only assume this is some reference to being doubled over.
To be clear, Woodhands are a talented duo recorded or not. They understand the fundamentals of electro and house as well, if not better, than some of the biggest names in those genres. Plus, they manage to pull them off live, with real instruments rather than hiding behind a laptop. Banwatt’s beats aren’t substantially different than his RAA offerings, save that the rapid-fire high-hats and drum machine precision seem like a more logical juxtaposition in this context. ‘I Should Have Gone With My Friends’ places Woodhands in league with other Canadian dance-rockers Shout Out Out Out Out who have three times the manpower. Though they have managed to find a more consistent sound for their vocal delivery more suited to an electronic act. I’m not sure Werb should be delivering every line through the muffle of a vocoder, but it’s something to think about.
Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about Remorsecapade. But I am sure about one thing: seeing Woodhands live could possibly change your life, or end it prematurely. So why don’t you see them and then decide for yourself whether the album should be added to your collection. They’re coming to a venue near you late February/early March.