Thursday, August 19th, 2010
Review of Land Of Talk’s Cloak And Cipher
Saddle CreekWhen their debut mini-album Applause Cheer Boo Hiss arrived in 2006, Land Of Talk appeared as though Canada had a new hard rock heroine in Liz Powell, her white-hot guitar work matched only by her distinctive vocals, equal parts angst and yearning. It wasn’t a title – or pigeonhole – that Powell seemed interested in, however, and their 2008 proper debut album Some Are Lakes surprised not only by dialing down the white-knuckle rock in favour of a somewhat softer and more spacious sound, but by making it sound as good, if not in some ways better, than the big, brash document that many had been imagining it would be.
Last year’s Fun & Laughter EP reignited those expectations, though, as producer Jace Lasek coaxed back some of the rough edges that Lakes producer Justin Vernon had smoothed out and with Lasek also helming album number two, perhaps expectations that we now lived in a kinder, gentler Land Of Talk were premature. Instead, Cloak And Cipher – out next week – again confounds expectations by splitting the difference and proving, perhaps, that it doesn’t really matter who’s producing or what the balance of heavy and light songs across the record are – it’s the quality of the songs that matters and in that department, Cloak And Cipher delivers.
It’s been suggested that Land Of Talk are one big song away from breaking out in a major way and if that’s true, then Cloak And Cipher is probably not the record that will do it. It holds no anthem or ballad that stops you in your tracks or burrows deep into your skull on a single listen – what it does have is ten compositions that showcase the breadth of Powell’s talents, each sounding fully self-realized and yet for all the shifts in tones, textures and players, hang together marvelously. Album standout “Quarry Hymns” sounds deceptively simple but is just about perfect in how it’s assembled, showcasing Powell’s ability to mate her distinctive voice with just the right melody and phrasing and her unconventional, spidery guitar playing while the blistering “The Hate I Won’t Commit” aptly demonstrates her punk edge is still well intact but even then, is exceptionally layered and sophisticated. No breakout hit? No bangers? No jams? That’s fine, I’ll take a rich, solid from top to bottom album every day of the week.
The National Post is currently streaming the whole of the new record with accompanying song-by-song commentary from Liz Powell. In addition to the one download below, you can get “Quarry Hymns” over here in exchange for your email address. Land Of Talk play Lee’s Palace on September 16.
Dan Mangan is staging a cross-country tour this Fall that includes a stop at Trinity-St. Paul’s in Toronto on October 28, tickets $22.50, with Bry Webb (formerly?) of Constantines supporting in his Harbourcoats guise. The Polaris-nominated Nice, Nice, Very Nice was just released in the US.
Stream: Mogwai / Special Moves
Rolling Stone talks to Nick Cave and Exclaim to Jim Sclavunos of Grinderman, whose Grinderman 2 is due out September 14 and whom the Huffington Post is calling the “first great band of the Anthropocene epoch”. Well duh. Grinderman play the Phoenix on November 11.