North of Northwest: Eamon McGrath – Young Canadians
It’s only once in a while that you get that ache when you listen to an album, that feeling where you want to cry because it’s so good, to run out into the street tears streaming, bearing it above your head and proclaiming its name. I know, I know — high praise. But great music brings us to that place where jubilation dances on the border of hyperbole, and Eamon McGrath’s Young Canadians has been selflessly bearing me there on its shoulders every day for weeks.
Young Canadians is bleeding heart blue collar rock in the tradition of Springsteen or the Constantines, distinguished by surprising but effective nods to grunge (“Pain of Love,” “Saskatoon, SK”) and country (the deliberately off-balance alcoholic ballad “Johnny Brought The Bottles Back”). Ghosts of the Replacements haunt melancholic numbers “Johnny” and “Auditorium.” But the album’s standout is its driving, fist-pumping title track.
Angry and dystopian, “Young Canadians” betrays the 23-year-old McGrath’s youth, often hidden by a voice that sounds like it must have been put out to weather years before he was born. “Refineries cover up the whole world / On your feet, soldiers on the street / The flood will rise up when we meet.” Ripping through in two minutes forty-eight, it has the breathtaking intensity of a Constantines track (and in fact is reminiscent of “Young Lions”) and the brevity of the punk rock songs it owes its ancestry to.
“Signals” addresses a similar subject with a slightly different tone, describing the timelessness of youth in a mid tempo growl. “Me and her on the bed / Looking like our parents did / Listening to the radio / Where do all those signals go?” It’s John Cougar Mellencamp for a snowbound Canada, a northern Jack and Diane. “In my voice you’d think I’m dead / But on the radio I bleed.”
McGrath occasionally interjects the stuff you viscerally get, you understand, with a line so beautiful and intriguing you want to hunt him down and beg him to tell you what it means. “I’ve got pictures on my wall / Of women that exist only in me,” he sings in “Rabid Dog.” “Great Lakes” is less song than noisy haunt poem: “I hope the open road and poets know to score the sores black with cocaine / Until you see the faded travelers’ mouths that ignite the sky with fear and propane.”
McGrath has created an album with a heady mix of instant accessibility and obsessive replay value, details and layers of meaning to keep a dedicated listener absorbed for years. Young Canadians is easy to listen to but impossible to pin down, a never-boring companion and definite contender for this year’s best release. ___
Young Canadians is out now on White Whale records. You can also stream the album here. ___