Cale E. Reneau | Conroe, Texas United States | 05/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the reasons why I initially got into independent music several years back was because it all sounded new and fresh to me. Raised, like most, on an unhealthy diet of MTV and ClearChannel radio (surely the McDonald's and Burger King of the music world), artists like Of Montreal, The Shins, and The Postal Service introduced me to the fact that not all music has to sound the same. And that made a lasting impression on me. Nowadays, I'm all too aware of the fact that even a lot of indie music sounds far too normal for its own good, but the potential to break free from musical norms is still there. So when a band like Plants and Animals comes around with what is possibly the freshest take on indie rock since The Decemberists, I become utterly drawn to the music and can't help but rave about it.
Album-opener, "Bye Bye Bye" is a solemn piano ballad turned triumphant tent revival anthem, complete with a choir singing the song's title with about as much enthusiasm as is ever shown on Parc Avenue. Lead vocalist, Warren Spicer cries in a Bowie-esque howl, "What's gonna happen to you/ you have woke up to soon/ and found the world rearranged/...say goodbye to before/ you are not welcome anymore!" The song trots along at a steady pace, adding in instrumentation to thicken the mix and the end result is completely enthralling. "Good Friend" plays out more traditionally, like a cool, mellow rock song paired with shoe-gazer sentiments. The verses are head-bobbingly addictive, while Spicer notes, "It takes a good friend to say you've got your head up your a**," during the song's barely-there, string-filled chorus.
Without question, the centerpiece of Parc Avenue is "Faerie Dance," a 7-minute journey through at least three distinct musical styles, here blended perfectly, seamlessly. In the beginning, the song gently moves along, carried by acoustic guitars, a lap steel, and a persistent, soft hi-hat roll. It bursts out of its shell at around 2:30 with dark, forceful pianos, and violins straight out of a horror movie. Eventually it collapses into a bright, happy sing-along with Spicer singing, "I fell asleep under a tree/ got woken up by birds and bees/ they're hard at work but they're hardly workin'." I defy you, or anyone to listen to this song and not start singing along with it at this point. It's simply one of the most infectious songs that I've heard in a long time.
"Feedback in the Fields" speeds things up with Kill Bill-esque whistle-led road warrior song, while "À L'orée Des Bois" is just another song that begs to be sung along to. The lyrics are near-unintelligible ("We woke up today, and I thought I was yesterday") but they're no less enjoyable as a result. The band has this uncanny ability to structure their songs in a seemingly perfect manner for the most part. Layers come in and leave as they are needed, vocal melodies are always wisely chosen, and any additional harmonies or instrumental lines are without flaw. There are some moments on the album where the band seems a little too overindulgent, like on "New Kind of Love" where the song runs about 2 1/2 minutes longer than it probably should. The rest of the song is amazing, but once the band starts harmonizing the song's title over flutes and flimsy guitars, it just gets to be a bit much.
"Early in the Morning" is the album's first real ballad, sounding like it was ripped right off of an old Eagles album. But at 2:22 in length, the feeling doesn't last for long. It's followed by "Mercy," Parc Avenue's strangest but perhaps most awesome track. It feels like a innocent band jam session gone awry when someone decided to bring in some psychedelic drugs. Spicer does more talking on the track than actual singing and the chorus is simply a bunch of people yelling "Mercy!" Later, in the bridge, they actually start spelling " M - E - R....C- Y" as a low, distorted voice repeats in agreement. In standard form though, the song loses its psycho-funk sound with about 1 1/2 minutes to go and trades it in for an electric guitar-driven coda that is no less impressive.
The album's last three songs are perhaps its most varied. "Sea Shanty," a song which lacks the Decemberists-like appeal that the title would imply, but still manages to please. "Keep it Real" is a song in reverse, with the triumphant ending coming in the beginning, leaving the song's remaining minutes to be more of a soft, moody affair - complete with jazz sax. It is not necessarily bad, though it is one of the album's most unremarkable tracks, despite its attempts. The closer, "Guru" is a 7-minute long instrumental. Remember when I spoke of overindulgence? This is perfect example of that. "Guru" shows no valid reason for existing other than to show the band's jamming capabilities, which, frankly, they already proved in "Mercy." It's an unfortunate ending to an otherwise amazing album.
Despite its ending, Parc Avenue is nothing if not a success. Plants and Animals is a band that needs to be heard and remembered, not just some random Band of Horses lyric. They manage to bring together all the best features of indie and classic 70s rock and blend them into something that is truly awesome. Their musicality is indisputable, filled with complex guitars, drums, harmonies, and memorable vocal performances. Though they do lay it on a bit too thick occasionally, the only thing I truly take away from the album is the undeniable desire to experience it all over again. Songs get stuck in my head, driving me to stop whatever it is I may be listening to and pop this in instead. To be sure, Parc Avenue is one of the best indie rock albums of 2008, and one that I can't imagine not listening to for some time to come! Plants and Animals has left me pleasantly surprised, and I highly recommend them to anyone who may find indie music stale and unappealing.
Key Tracks: 1. "Bye Bye Bye" 2. "Faerie Dance" 3. "À L'orée Des Bois" 4. "New Kind of Love" 5. "Mercy"
8 out of 10 Stars
Plants and Animals--Great album!
D. Lipp | NYC | 06/29/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Montreal trio Plants and Animals play whimsical folk rock songs with titles like "Faerie Dance" and "Feedback in the Field." So it's not surprising that there's a pastoral slant to their musical musings. Lead singer Warren C. Spider has a reedy timbre to his voice that gives the band's airy tunes an immediate and authentic quality. It serves them well on joyous woodland romps like "Bye Bye Bye" and an exquisitely hushed song called "Early in the Morning." But if there's one song that brings all of the group's best elements into play, it has to be the chillingly lonesome "Sea Shanty" - a perfect hymn to the mysteries of the deep. The album finishes with an eastern flavored jam called "Guru" that closes things out on a high-spirited note.
See more music reviews at www.shortandsweetnyc.com"
The fantasy under the tree
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 03/30/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
""What's gonna happen to you?/You have forgotten to sing/and found the world rearranged/and now you're feeling so changed..."
With that introduction, Plants and Animals usher you into the world of "Parc Avenue," full of pastoral psychedelic shoegazer experimental-folk sea-chanty indie-rock. Yeah, they have some issues with picking a style, but this Montreal trio spins an adorably expansive little debut album that melds the earthy with the vaguely transcendent.
It opens with a Coldplayish piano ballad, blossoming into a soaring pop chorale like a condemning angelic choir. Warren Spicer's raw-edged vocals rise over the vibrant melody, telling us that "Today I saw a shadow/and I had the feeling you'd be another... we would not help ourselves/it's really easy to do/we never needed to..." punctuated by softer interludes.
They slip into a mellower, urgent rock sound in the uneasy, string-draped "Good Friend," and the ethereal rambling "Faerie Dance." Actually, they dabble in a new sound for almost every song -- 70s-style rock'n'roll, lush pastoral pop, haunting ballads, a wild joyous jam with a horn-riddled hallucinatory sound, a hyperactive sea shanty, and an acid-tinged finale that seems to be a celebration of electric guitar riffs.
If I had to find something to criticize about "Parc Avenue," it would be that this Montreal band is still finding their distinctive style -- although the album leans a bit more heavily on pastoral psychedelic jams in the second half. Plants and Animals bounce smoothly from retro rock'n'roll to a lush psychedelic style, and then over into some mellow unfolding jam sessions. I don't usually like jam bands, but this one was dense and intense enough to keep me listening.
Dense and intense are the best words -- we have a perpetually building fog of acoustic and electric riffs, sometimes hazed in distortion, flowing together or "wah-wah-wahing" through the song. Some nice drums, shimmers of faint synth, some plinks of aggressive piano. But the standout is the expanses of shimmering strings, taking the earthy guitar work up into the realm of musical transcendence. Nice stuff, and done expertly.
And while Spicer's raw, mildly mournful voice sometimes says some lame lines ("I was working hard, but hardly workin'"), the lyrics are solid stuff for the most part ("The fantasy under the tree/got woken up by birds and bees... there might be rain, but not for certain..."). And his vocals get an extra boost from the soaring backing vocals, whether as a backing chant or a chorale explosion.
"Parc Avenue" is quite good for a good debut, though Plants and Animals still seem to be feeling out their territory. And along the way, they've produced some solid, enjoyable music."
Working Hard, but Hardly Working
Clay Reimus | Pennsylvania | 04/28/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Look no further than Vampire Weekend for proof that the music blogosphere (I die a little inside just typing that) is capable of overhyping a band before they even release an LP. Thankfully, Faerie Dance received just enough hype to create interest, but not quite enough to spawn dedicated haters. Their expansive orchestral sound has less in common with Montreal neighbors the Arcade Fire than it does with Grizzly Bear, whose Yellow House was one of the best records of 2006.
Plants and Animals is a genuinely modern psychedelic band, and they earn that distinction by avoiding the digital-delay drenched boredom that's become a trademark of the genre. Parc Avenue is full of huge hooks, sprawling arrangements, tense guitar jams, transcendent moments, and clever wordplay. Look no further than the second half of Faerie Dance for proof: soaring vocals, belligerent detuned piano, tight drumming, a string section teetering on the edge--all suddenly gives way to a mellow and repetitive bridge, punctuated by "la la la's" and pedal steel guitar. If this band has mastered anything this early in a (hopefully) long career, it's tension and release.
You'll find comparisons abound to jam bands, but Plants and Animals is anything but. Every transition and repeated phrase has a sense of purpose and direction--no mindless guitar wankery to be found. The finest moment on this record is "A New Kind of Love," where Warren Spicer happily admits "like a child/we get hungry and restless and wicked and wild." Parc Avenue is an album proud of its psychedelic, childish wonder."