Just as there is Godwin’s Law which asserts that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison to Hitler approaches 1,” there is also the lesser-known Godrich’s Law, which states that “as a discussion of music grows longer, the probability of a comparison to Radiohead approaches 1.” A subtle difference, but an important one. Perhaps it’s because Radiohead has such an extensive and diverse discography, or maybe it’s because they are such an entry point into indie rock for people outside the “scene” — whatever the reason, comparing a band to Radiohead is generally lazy shorthand for saying, “Oh, they’re a little weird and cerebral.” Because no one actually sounds like Radiohead. That’s one of the reasons so many people hate/love Radiohead; they’re so distinctly what they are. And yet the comparisons abound. Coldplay? Muse? Bah humbug.
So, imagine my surprise when I donned my headphones to listen to the latest from Plants & Animals and was greeted with sounds that could have come straight off of Airbag / How Am I Driving?. It is, clearly, not lightly that I make such a comparison. But there is something in the timbre of the vocals, in the ghostly harmonies that float by, in the abrupt instrumentation changes, the pop-hearted flirting with misery that really does warrant the relation.
The fourth album from the Montreal-based band is ambitious, and happily, more successful than not for all those ambitions. To call it chamber pop might be technically accurate, but wouldn’t allow for the scope of the record, pulling in enough horns, woodwinds, and strings to warrant the word “symphony.” But the band does so with taste and a sense of reserve, only allowing cacophony in key moments. Oftentimes they’re quite minimal and groovy, relying on the simple core of their trio to drive the song. Songs like album opener “We Were One” and “All of the Time” recall Radiohead most heavily, whether through a forlornly struck piano or an off-kilter groove featuring distinctly Yorke-ian wailing.
When the orchestra kicks in, as it does at the end of the soulful “So Many Nights”, the band takes on a tone recalling fellow Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. The marriage of the two high-profile indie rock sounds is an enjoyable, if not entirely unique. The band is expansive both cerebrally and instrumentally, and they paint with a broad palette. Each flute bursts into trilling sparkles, the heavy brass into fireworks. From the unexpected psych burst of “Stay” to the multi-faceted movements of “Je voulais te dire”, each song bursts with surprise. In fact, the only song that falls completely flat is the band’s second single, “No Worries Gonna Find Us”, a repetitive and over-cooked tune despite its gorgeous strings. There are a couple of other moments like that on the record, where guitars are unusually loud or vocals are strangely, intimately dry. But for the most part, things work cohesively.
Waltzed in from the Rumbling is a strong effort from a band that’s been around a while, making this kind of lovely indie rock since it was topping the CMJ charts in the mid 2000s. As other, bigger names wandered in the direction of disco (The Arcade Fire) or electronica (Sufjan), Plants & Animals have continued to hone their sound, and this new album is a testament to that work.
Essential Tracks: “Stay”, “Je voulais te dire”, and “We Were One”