The Rest – Seesaw (2012) – an album review

It’s not often I’m driven to write reviews for local acts, because, to be perfectly frank, I don’t get to listen to local acts too often. I used to get out to shows pretty regularly, but then I got married, and between my tastes in music basically running to the loud and pointy, and my wife preferring soft, acoustically-driven music, and our finances for going to rock shows fairly severely curtailed in recent years, I’ve really only been to a few big name shows, a couple of really good free shows, and a few club gigs I ended up regretting (no names; I don’t want to make anyone feel bad).

Then something kind of peculiar happened; quite by accident, I met a new musician at, of all things, a neighbourhood association meeting. He turned out to be a pretty personable sort who wasn’t put off by my interrupting a conversation with another guy whom I was also hoping to chat with, but who promptly vanished into thin air, never to be seen again. I still feel bad about that, but not enough to disassociate myself from the first gent, who did speak to me, if somewhat warily. I discovered later on that he was also a songwriter, and that he, unlike I, actually has a working band. So he won two points from me right there. And then I learned a third fact: he had an album coming out the same month as mine was supposed to. Hat trick. I immediately decided to investigate.

The gentleman’s name is Adam Bentley, and he is the lead singer and multi-instrumental songwriter of The Rest, a local band consisting of several very talented musicians, including a cellist who doubles as a woodwind player. If that doesn’t give you some idea of what kind of band you’re about to read about, then you haven’t been keeping up with the more recent trends in new indie pop music. The stuff I’m most inclined to compare it to isn’t other shoegaze-type bands, as I don’t really listen to them. I liken them to a nice blend of Radiohead, Broken Social Scene and Polyphonic Spree (minus the choir), with perhaps a bit of Sigur Ros thrown in for good (i.e. discordant) measure.

tl;dr Version: Oh Gawd, ANOTHER obscure indie act! WHERE’S the frelling Adrenaline Mob review, already [INTERROBANG]

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Okay, so it’s like this. I’m still just trying to get back into review writing after taking a couple of months off of serious reviews. AMob and several other reviews are still in the works. I’ll get to them. But meanwhile, they don’t need my love nearly as much as acts like The James Rocket, Terra Lightfoot and The Rest do. These folks hail from a tradition of music that I’ve been neglecting for a while now, and it’s about time I redressed the balance, particularly since I myself am an indie artist, and really ought to show some solidarity with my colleagues.

And besides, The Rest are a great act. They were nominated for a Juno. That’s a big deal up here. And anyway, it’s one album review, and I’m overdue with this, too. The album has been out for two months. It’s about time I did it and got back to THE LIST.

Boring Version: As I mentioned, I met Adam through less than average circumstances for meeting fellow musicians, and he was kind enough not to tell me off right then and there, so I’ve been making friends with him ever since. We’re still at ‘acquaintance’ stage, but I like to think we’re getting there.

The thing about The Rest’s music, and particularly this album, is that the production values are phenomenal for an indie act, and yet the music is both quirky enough and yet accessible enough not to be dismissed as a mere pop product. The songs are good. Some of them are great, actually. And though I don’t consider myself a fan of shoegaze music as a rule, I find myself oddly drawn to this very positive take on the style, which probably ought to be given its own category; let someone else try following this act for a change. Cutters need not apply… though I hasten to add that, if he handles the emotionally-wounded as well as he handled meeting me, I doubt Adam would exclude anybody.

Who Knows opens with a single guitar melody, joined by drums and then piano, and then Adam begins to sing. It’s a pretty number that has a quality of patience consolation to it; a strange place to start an album, but it does build to something a little more insistent and powerful. Adam’s voice keens both within and above the din, at a distance, sounding like a peculiar mix of Bono and Robert Smith, balanced against a soft wall of sound, like being wrapped in a thick comforter. Gorgeous tune.

Hey! For Horses is hands down the catchiest tune I’ve heard from this band so far. It’s highly infectious, and if you don’t catch yourself singing the chorus after a few minutes… well, give it time. I’ll bet you’ll be singing it tomorrow. Burst of slightly distorted guitars and the tight New Wave-style drums and bass playing eventually give way to an expansive, echo-drenched middle passage that feels a little like a Rheostatics moment, but this returns us to the catchy chorus one more time.

Always On My Mind starts with Adam and a guitar, almost an echo of (don’t hate me) Adam Sandler’s Grow Old With You, but this is quickly brought to an end when the fuzz-and-reverb-laden guitars and bass crash through the silence. I’m rarely fond of overly heavy reverb mixes, but here it’s rather lovely, like a choir in a cavern or something. There’s a nice instrumental passage that doesn’t last nearly long enough, and then Adam singing against the drums is once again buried in a slow avalanche of guitar, like watching a disaster flick in slow motion, except that, to the beset of my knowledge, the song is actually a love song. It’s as funny old world.

Laughing Yearning is another of those extraordinarily catchy tunes, this time with a calypso rhythm that brings to mind (Nothing But) Flowers by Talking Heads. Very up, cheerful sounding song, and while there aren’t any catchy chorus lines to hook onto in this one, it’ll probably have you dancing in no time, which is just as good. There’s a slight minor key bridge that returns and extends with lyrics as the tune comes to an end. A very nicely constructed piece.

John Huston opens with a heavily effected kick drum rhythm that is soon joined by a wall of fuzzy, faded guitar and strings, and then the vocals enter, and before you know it, we have an understated pop masterpiece, complete with catchy bass line and hooky chorus. The nice thing about this number is, it doesn’t go through too many changes, compositionally, but it does a nice job of sounding like it does, in part because of the intelligent and efficient production, and at least in part because its economy makes every shift in tone seem monumental, when in fact it’s a minor shift and the same chords and notes carry you through. Very nice piece of work indeed.

Could Be Sleeping starts softly, but then, most of these songs do. This might be taken as a criticism, and on a longer album, it probably would be, but as this album is a very listener-friendly ten tracks long, the effect of these seemingly repeated dynamics don’t have a chance to feel overdone or played out. The song itself does a nice job of showcasing both the delicate quality of Adam’s falsetto vocal and the cello, as well as some chiming bell tones from what one presumes is the keys. When the piece finally arrives at the crescendo, complete with rocking guitar and drums crashing and forcing Adam down into his lower register, he fairly screams the closing line, and the song winds down to a slow, cacophonous fade. Highly effective song.

The Lodger is a gentle number, feeling something like a lullabye with a bit more bass than one might want in a small child’s bedroom at night. And then slightly crushed guitar chords stab their way into the mix, and the cello soars beautifully through the quite echoes. A haunting song that scales beautifully without going too far in either direction, even at the end, when the song seems to go into a more forceful instrumental segment, as that too gives way to soft, pleading vocals, riding out the swell and crash as the ending arrives.

Young and Innocent is another very catchy pop melody, complete with retro keys and a rhythm section that wouldn’t be out of place on a Beach Boys track. It’s a wonderfully charming tune, and with the wash of quietly distorted guitar and the ever-present echo chamber effect, it’s far from being a mere homage to surf rock. I think this would make a great video, and is probably a lot of fun to play live. It certainly looked fun from where I was sitting in the church.

The Last Day is another delicate flower of a song, but Adam’s voice is strong and assured in this, and as the drums come and Adam’s voice slides up into falsetto, a wave of sound builds until it pours out of the speakers in a soft wave of mutilation (did you see what I did there?). The instrumental section at the end is particularly cool. Good piece.

Slumber comes to us as a soft, Motown-inflected number, complete with chiming piano and strings. It’s a lovely piece that makes me think of the last song at the school dance, except that the lsat song was almost always Stairway To Heaven, and this is closer to Sea of Love, except in a minor key, with a slightly off-kilter progression, like listening to an electric piano pretending to be a calliope, and then the sunny side of the song opens up, strings and bass playing beautifully against the slightly peculiar keys. And then it’s gone. All gone.

So, having reached the end, I should say that, while I’m hesitant to declare my undying love for this album, I do think it has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a charming album that you can play for virtually any of your friends except the resident punk or metal head, who will probably say something unpleasant. But hey, they can wait for my Adrenaline Mob review. Leave The Rest alone.

© 2012 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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