Photographs by Alexandra Valenti

Photographs by Alexandra Valenti

Growing up with a band is a rare, weird thing. It makes you feel special, and entitled, and old. For the past 15 years Okkervil River have been providing the soundtrack to our lives, so when they hit the stage at the Phoenix in Toronto this Saturday, we at Ca Va Cool feel we’ve earned the right to shout out a few numbers. Short of demanding they shut up and play the hits, here’s what we want to hear:

MP3: Okkervil River – For Real

In Pitchfork’s review of this month’s The Silver Gymnasium, Stephen M. Deusner bemoaned the fact that frontman Will Sheff seems to have abandoned his patented rock and roll hysteria. Let’s go back to Black Sheep Boy for our fix: on “For Real” Sheff is a tight coil of manic energy, and the band backs him up on each slammed riff, egging him further into madness.

“Plus Ones”

Sheff’s lyrics can be long on wit and short on feeling, but here he nails both. The double conceit–a date to a rock show, or an additional number to timeless rock songs–plays out brilliantly: he sings of “a 100th luftballoon” and “the fourth time you were a lady” with a smirk on his face and a tear in his eye.

MP3: Okkervil River – It Ends with a Fall

This swoony track is still the highlight of 2003’s Down the River of Golden Dreams. The violins are moaning, and Sheff’s words are strung so tightly together they seem to be spilling out of his mouth. The pros know that the song’s melodrama works well: Charles Bissell chose to cover this track several years ago in response to Sheff’s near-perfect version of the Wrens’ classic “Ex-Girl Collection.”

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— , September 26, 2013    Comments Off on Okkervil River
Photograph by Dierdre O'Callaghan

Photograph by Dierdre O’Callaghan

Listeners—and some critics—have accused The National of being too dreary, too drunk, too awash in self-pity. They’re not totally wrong, and on their sixth record, Trouble Will Find Me, the band has sunk further into their swamp of sadness than ever before. But The National are getting older, and if they sound defeated it only makes sense. Once upon a time, frontman Matt Berninger sang about the twenty-something transition into “the un-magnificent lives of adults.” Trouble Will Find Me is what it sounds like when you’re finally there.

There’s something about the 13 tracks on Trouble Will Find Me that feels very adult, even for The National. These are complex, layered melodies, and band MVP Bryan Devendorf still carries tracks like the first single “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” with his driving drums. But the band’s frantic energy, which burned so brightly on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Alligator, has dimmed over the years. The man who used to scream “My mind’s not right!” on “Abel” is still here, but now he’s come to terms with his situation.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Berninger’s lyrics are still wonderfully weird, and on songs like “Pink Rabbits,” his grandiose, tragicomic imagery fits perfectly with the music’s heaviness: pianos and choirs are moaning right along with him. These songs aren’t meant to build you up, the way that rock music often does; they’re designed to weigh you down instead. Trouble Will Find Me is the soundtrack to the life the band is living rather than the life you want them to be living, and in that, it’s shamelessly honest. Sooner or later, we all have a moment where we need our girl.

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— , June 3, 2013    1 Comment

Photograph by Meqo Sam Cecil

It’s really not Wolf Parade’s fault. Five years ago, when the Canadian rock fetish was just getting sexy and every new act seemed to be named after some kind of Canis lupus, Apologies to the Queen Mary rocked our cores before lighting our own hearts on fire. With a debut album that stellar and a wave of hype washing across the continent, there really was nowhere else to go but down.

While 2008’s At Mount Zoomer may have been more of a commercial success, it suffered the sophomore slump status simply by not being as exceptional as Apologies. It comes as no surprise, then, that songwriters Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner have spent the past few years doing their best work with side projects Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs, respectively.

Expo 86 finds the guys stuck in the same style but lacking the stripped down vulnerability and frantic feeling that marked their debut. Krug’s compositions have abandoned the jangly, Modest Mouse rawness that made tracks like ‘Grounds for Divorce’ and ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ so affecting, instead spending the majority of his tracks wadding through excess. His affection for prog rock heaviness, sadly, weighs down the otherwise sparkling melodies of ‘Cloud Shadow on the Mountain’ and What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)’. Minimalism, this ain’t.

The best parts of Expo 86 owe more to Boeckner, who delivers the album’s standout tracks: the synth-driven dance number ‘Ghost Pressure’ and ‘Yulia’, the record’s poppiest and most catchy cut. While Krug’s Sunset Rubdown got all the attention and accolades last year with Dragonslayer, Boeckner more than pulls his weight here.

Wolf Parade – Ghost Pressure
Wolf Parade – Yulia

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— , July 14, 2010    2 Comments