Alberta’s Rae Spoon is very much the man that ’50s teen heartthrob Ricky Nelson sang about in his song, “Travellin’ Man.” “I’m a travellin’ man/ And I’ve made a lot of stops all over the world/ And in every port I own the heart/ Of at least one lovely girl.”
Spoon’s third album, White Hearse Comes Rolling, has a confident determined aura about it. Spoon sings of love with much regret (yet he’s ever the optimist). His sarcastic wit gives this utterly romantic album its quirky robust charm.
Superb banjo pickin’ and guitar playing (by Spoon and Jon Wood) are what it’s all about. The production is sparse and simple. Adding the lovely Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira to harmonize with Spoon on four of the tracks is inspired. The girls seem to give Spoon a more playful, giddy horniness. You just know there have been many bedside lamps broken in motels across North America.
“Nevada Desert” clips along like a flighty schoolgirl. Spoon has such an insanely joyful twang in his voice; Russell has Dolly Parton’s cute chipmunk charm. Together, they’re heavenly. “Don’t hide your love in the Nevada desert,” they sing, “I will never find your love that way.”
On “Willow,” Spoon has never been sexier. As he picks his banjo, his voice roars over the plains and the girls caress his mournful pleas. “Under the willow/ That’s where I’ll be,” he cries. “If you ever come back to town/ And you walk to find me/ I will be watering that willow tree.”
Spoon is so at ease and such a proficient player that “Yonge Street” grips you with its ultra sad tale and off-kilter, off-key chord changes. “I feel like a tractor rollin’ down Yonge St/ I know this city’s got no use for me,” Spoon sighs. “I hope you got use for me.” He manages to convey tears and heartache with not only his voice but his guitar as well. That’s what makes Spoon so special.
Owen Pallett seems to have found himself. His inspired work with The Hidden Cameras, The Arcade Fire and his own Les Mouches have all converged splendidly on Final Fantasy’s second release, He Poos Clouds. Pallett surpasses all of his previous work, both with the other bands and Fantasy’s 2005 debut, with a weird hypnotic energy that has an emotional aggressive edginess. His voice is much more realized lyrically and his singing has a rougher quality now. It veers off in different directions. His fey whimpers have become fuller, more dynamic. At times he shouts and screams like some crazy killer from Sondheim’s Assassins or Sweeney Todd.
Don’t start me on Pallett’s utterly orgasmic arrangements. Strings fly and swoop. Piano keys have Tourette’s syndrome audacity. Choirs spring from the earth and fling themselves into Pallett’s unique colourful vision. The music has the excitement, the playfulness and insight of Dr Seuss’s classic children books. He Poos Clouds sings like Green Eggs And Ham reads.
“This Lamb Sells Condos” is a great example of the album’s vitality. It starts with bright skipping piano as Pallett sings his tale. “No hope for the village/ No hope for the village/ There’s a merchant in our midst/ And with a barrel fist/ He’s coloured every surface.” The piano plays faster, more urgently as a choir of childlike voices chimes in and carries Pallett’s rants to surreal yet profound heights. Nothing in the pop world sounds like this.
On “I’m Afraid Of Japan,” it’s as if The Kinks’ Ray Davies happened into Madame Butterfly and decided to stay the night. Pallett is quite the balladeer on this track. His voice is sublime. He hits notes, holds them and lets himself go. The cellos, violins and violas lurk in the shadows and intensify Pallett’s obscure breathtaking cries. “If I do it with an ice pick/ Will I come back as a jock?/ If I fast until starvation/ Will I be born again a Christian?”
After such a pretty tune, in comes “Song Song Song” with its fusion of loud bullying tribal/ marching band drums that pound away to Pallett’s easygoing spirit. It’s such a strange and unique contrast. Violins and cellos are vigorous tomboy fun, lifting the song into an engrossing imaginative artistic statement. “Got a daughter who’ll eat anything/ They like to feed her words, words, words.”
With He Poos Clouds, Pallett has made a remarkable piece of art. One so brilliant and original that it will surely inspire many musicians and make many seethe with Salieri jealousy. It’s that good.
Rae Spoon performs with Amy Campbell and Ann Vriend at 9:30pm on Tue, May 30 at C’est What (67 Front St E); $5 cover.
He’s then at Oasis (294 College St) on Wed, Jun 7 at 10pm with guests Violet Static, Jen (from Dance Yourself To Death) and Lucas Silveira; cover is $7.