March 22, 2012

North of Northwest: Plants and Animals – The End of That

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Upfront caveat: this one’s a grower. It takes a little time to fully appreciate Plants and Animals’ new record The End of That, both over repeat listens and over the course of the album itself. Surprisingly straightforward and heavily lyric driven, The End Of That comes out shambling, not swinging, and prefers the slow seduction to flash bang attempts to wow you with its awesomeness.

But that’s okay. A gradual courtship can be just as rewarding as love at first sight, and you get there eventually. One day you’re listening in the car and you find yourself doing the funky head-nod, a little Jagger face, and you realize you’re more than a little bit sweet on The End of That’s casually swaggering rock and roll.

The mood change from 2010′s La La Land is dramatic — for the first couple of tracks I honestly thought I might be listening to a fake leak, until I remembered I got it from the band’s publicist. (Wouldn’t that be a wee bit embarrassing.) The shimmer of “Game Shows” has been replaced by shimmy, and much of the electric guitar has been replaced by acoustic. There’s a strong Americana feel with a touch of Seventies rock, and while it’s polished and not unsophisticated, the instrumentation doesn’t take center stage here.

Luckily lead vocalist and lyricist Warren Spicer has delivered a compelling songwriting performance, filling the lyric sheet with quotable lines like “Maybe I should change my point of view / Dizzy in the morning, shaky in the afternoon” and Crisis!’ refrain “Somewhere between a crisis and a pretty good time” (delivered with a ragged voice crack that hints compellingly at the edge of madness). The misleadingly-named “Song For Love” is actually an ode to post-breakup self-destruction: “Soon I’ll find a place, rent a box and put some stuff in it / Until then I’ll glorify all my vices and just roll with the punches.” Spicer pines for the escape of the road and its hedonism, then sings “Sometimes the learning is the losing and you’re better off just burning some bridges.” You can almost see the lit match flying out the window.

The creeping specter of commitment is a theme running throughout the album, with Spicer alternately pulling toward and pushing away. “We’re hoping to be friends, do cool stuff and be equal,” he sings in the title track, concisely defining the modern twenty-something relationship, but only one track later are the aforementioned abnegations of “Song For Love.” “Crisis!” declares that “The stroller situation on the sidewalk is way out of control.” After the out-and-out self-pity of “Why & Why,” “Control Me,” and “No Idea” (a surprising McCartney-esque piano jam), final track “Runaways” seems to find a sort of detente. “All I want is for us to run away,” Spicer sings, perhaps hoping to embrace the best of both worlds, or at least demographics.

The End Of That represents a sort of growing up for the band, as well, who said in a recent interview, “I think this record is coming closer to us owning our own sound. I feel like we made a record that really sounds like us, as opposed to the record before this one and the one before that.” This confidence comes across in the album’s unapologetic tone, and it’s Spicer’s straightforward honesty that allows his topics to feel refreshing, instead of hackneyed. Sometimes you do want to yell at the world to slow the fuck down, then sit down on the couch and have a beer, put your feet up on the table and let that, for the moment, be the end of that.

 

 

Plants and Animals play The Crocodile on Thursday, March 22.

The End of That is out now on Secret City Records.

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