Somewhere Between Plants and AnimalsFeatured, Music — By Keaton Lamle on April 17, 2012 at 7:00 am
Plants and Animals are arguably Montreal’s second-finest indie rockers after Arcade Fire. I’ve been trying to get a feel for their third full length, The End of That, for a couple of weeks now, and I just can’t. Here is the best I have yet come up with. Here is the first draft of my album review. This is the fruit of an hour’s “work”:
“Surprised. Surprised and sporadically titillated.”
It isn’t that I am surprised because this album is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. In fact, the opposite is true: It sounds a heck of a lot like a lot of things I’ve heard. I just can’t really figure out what those things are. I feel like Guy Pearce’s character in Memento: I have all of these signifiers in front of my face, I just can’t seem to really place them. Even after 14 days. I hear glimpses of Neil Young, Isaac Brock, and Win Butler, and it makes for an uncanny listening experience.
Album opener “Before” aches gorgeously, and seems curiously out of place; considering the tone of the song lyrically and musically, it stands in stark contrast to the strange morphine haze of the rest of the album. On the second/title track, the vocalist first informs us that he tried cocaine — “just to see what it would do” — and then he tells us what it did — “it tore out my soul.” This is a pretty odd thing to write in a song, even if it was penned (as indicated) under the soul-tearing influence of cocaine. In fact, the presence of drugs goes a long way towards explaining the inclusion of lyrics like, “You turn me on so, with your bee-sting lips” (I’m picturing collagen?) “and your pepper-grinder hips” (I have no idea what to picture) or the fact that the whole song sort of sounds like something that would be playing during a beach volleyball montage in an episode of Scooby Doo, backup singers and all. This is all excellent, somehow.
And here is why I am continually surprised (and titillated) by this record: Songs like this cause me to tune out the lyrics and focus on the music as an exercise in disassociation. “This band isn’t going to say a lot,” I think to myself, “so just sit back and enjoy the righteous guitar tones and occasional drug reference,” when suddenly I am kicked in the teeth with oddly brilliant/still banal lyrics like, “The moral of the story almost always ruins every word in it. Sometimes the learning’s in the losing.” I don’t know what to think. Why is the coked-out guy behind the 7-11 lecturing me on post-modern literary theory?
“Crisis!” (which begins with semi-awesome simulated “studio chatter” [Unknown speaker: “Alright...Nick. I think we're rolling”. Nick: “Are we rolling?”]) spills the wine for about four minutes before space-rocking the listener into incredulity, while attempting to explore the anxieties that arise when all your friends get married, while you remain single. Despite its best effort this tune never really soars like it wants to, but I would still file it as equal parts surprising and titillating. By the time we reach the chorus, the vocalist is wailing about being “somewhere between a crisis and a pretty good tii-hi-iime!” and it is difficult to say whether he is singing didactically, or whether he is prophetically describing my listening experience.
The band seems to be at their best when they are at their most normal. “No Idea” is a genuinely good pop song, and “H & C” almost certainly would have been, had P&A been able to stick it out for at least a full minute. Ultimately the The End of That has some brilliant moments, usually guitar-related, and only takes a couple of wrong turns. I honestly enjoy the album, which is confusing because a) I’m not really sure that was the band’s intent and b) I get the feeling that it is still better than I appreciate it as being, somehow. This is complicated by the fact that I almost never want to voluntarily listen to it, yet find myself humming the tunes all day. File it somewhere between good and great. Somewhere between surprising and titillating. Somewhere between a crisis and pretty good time.