The first half-minute of ambience that opens Mediac took me right back to the first time I listened to The Most Serene Republic’s fantastic debut Underwater Cinematographer. I have my sister-in-law to continue to thank for introducing me to that still-ahead-of-its-time album.
Unique Toronto, Unique Toronto
TMSR always has been and still is a band very much their own. Are there 4 members? 8? 126? It doesn’t really matter, because they all (there are actually 6) play in sync with each other, even while contributing unique lines you might not otherwise think could be combined in a single song.
That’s part of the band’s unique genius. Sometimes you’re experiencing the music as one unified groove, as in the poppy “I Haven’t Seen You Around,” Mediac’s second track, or as in “Ontario Morning,” the album’s first single. Other times you hear the instruments more disparately and have to work harder to take a song in, as in “Brain Etiquette,” the album’s second-to-last song.
TMSR is not afraid to challenge their listeners, a trait I admire in a band. What other rock sextet do you know of that routinely incorporates brass and strings as if it were second nature? Well, okay, maybe a lot do, but not this creatively. “Failure of Anger,” the sixth track, makes you wonder why you haven’t heard more banjo and electric guitar fuzz in the same song before this.
But back to the beginning for a minute.
TMSR Through the Years
Underwater Cinematographer came in 2005. And on a blog that has long since disappeared from the Internet, Phages was my 2006 Album of the Year… even though it was an EP. That’s how good these guys are. Their live show matched the energy and quality of their recordings. They were probably my favorite band of the mid-oughts, or whatever we finally ended up deciding to call that decade. Their second full-length, Population (2007), was my favorite outdoor running companion for many months.
I sort of lost touch with the band at that point, and they actually have been on hiatus themselves for the last five years. Well, they’ve worked the last four years on Mediac, but I don’t know who knew that until now.
Ready for some album reviewer’s word association?
Creativity? They’ve still got it.
Quality production? Check. (Brought to you by Ryan Lenssen from the band and David Newfield, who has overseen Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals, and Los Campesinos!).
Memorable hooks? Done, throughout.
Lush, interweaving guitars? Yes, even if it’s not a priority as such.
Thought-provoking, critical-of-the-mainstream lyrics? Uh, yeah. In “Capitalist Waltz” (which, awesomely, is not a waltz) Adrian Jewett snarkily sings, “I’ll advertise for you,” an impulse we reviewers have to face cautiously, much as we may love the bands we write about.
In that spirit, some lyrics hit me as a little obtuse:
To fill the day with an effigy of you,
while Earth’s cigarette is freshly lit
in the modern times, the modern times.
(Et tu, Facebook? he Tweeted.)
That same song is still catchy, though:
A montage of you turning around, turning around, turning around
And, okay, I’ll admit–if I’m understanding the song right, referring to Facebook (and/or Instagram) as “Earth’s cigarette” is actually right on the money.
Concluding Evaluation and Where to Get Mediac
I’m thrilled these guys are back in action with another full-length. Their first few records showed real progression, while each being winners in their own right. Medaic is a little harder for me to know how to place in the TMSR corpus, all of which I’ve listened to. It has some real bright moments, though I didn’t initially experience it as being as cohesive or as innovative as previous efforts.
That said, if you have never listened to TMSR, they exude talent, passion, conviction, and RAWK on any album they put their hands to.
And even as I wrap up this review, some weeks after starting to listen to Mediac, it’s growing on me with each listen. I find more hooks, melodies, motifs, and layers to latch onto each time.
You probably will, too, so definitely untangle those headphones in your jeans pocket, download the album, and queue up your iPod. The Most Serene Republic is back.
Thanks to the fine folks doing PR for TMSR, who provided me with an advance copy of the album so I could review it.