A true renaissance musician with an unencumbered approach, Reggie Vermue, a.k.a. Gentleman Reg, may just be Canada’s pale version of Will Oldham. Whether working with Owen Pallet, Broken Social Scene, Ohbijou’s James Bunton, Sufjan Stevens, or the Hidden Cameras, Vermue thrives in diverse playing fields without sacrificing his outcast spirit. On his latest solo release, Vermue, who typically surrounds his rich and fragile voice with brooding, organic pop and outsider folk, takes a decidedly power-pop approach. Leisure Life Part One, his first solo release in almost three years, and the first of a three-part EP series, finds Vermue soaking his sorrows in synthesizers, getting tremendous support from a flawless backing band, and letting loose some viciously catchy pop music.
It’s important to note that Vermue is no stranger to tinkering with “guilty pleasures.” On 2009’s Heavy Heart EP, he put the brakes on Chris Isaak’s already-crawling “Wicked Game”, altering Isaak’s desperate cries for matter-of-fact romanticism while still preserving the song’s eroticism. The swirling synths and candied melodies of “Waiting Around for Gold” could be mistaken for an equally guilty pleasure. Vermue complements a sophisticated chorus (one that makes this a very coverable song) and jangly acoustics with churning synths and soulful keys, shaping it within the traditional boundaries of radio-friendly pop rock.
Similarly, “Too Drunk” is dominated by a simple rock riff catchy enough to make Journey or Boston jealous, a riff that Vermue shrewdly punctuates with slight discord. Carried by Vermue’s delicate voice and precise vocal harmonies, “Too Drunk” is taken home and put to bed by a rising rhythmic breakdown. “I Could Be What You Wanted” and “Driving the Truth” are highlighted by Jon Hynes’ sonorous post-punk bass lines, Vermue’s thick power chords, alarming synths, and Bunton’s flawless drumming. “Solo Shows”, the fifth and final track, reveals Vermue in his leisurely paced and sparsely arranged comfort zone, letting his exposed emotions do the talking.
Not that Gentleman Reg was trying to prove it, but Leisure Life Part One is a lesson that radio-friendly rock still has a place in music and should not be blindly dismissed. Like when Ted Leo covered Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, Gentleman Reg takes the best of two worlds to create something everyone can enjoy.
Essential Tracks: “Waiting Around for Gold”, “I Could Be What You Wanted”