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Monday, October 15, 2007

The Most Serene Republic: "Population"

It seems like it wasn't too long ago when I stumbled up a little indie rock band from Canada called The Most Serene Republic. In reality, it was over 2 years ago when I first became acquainted with the band, just around the time that their debut album "Underwater Cinematographer" was released on the Arts & Crafts label. To this day, that album has not gotten the recognition that it truly deserves. It was one of 2005's best, and certainly most unappreciated albums. For the first band signed to the label that had absolutely no affiliation to Broken Social Scene, the band shared many similarities with the large and perhaps over-hyped "supergroup." As far as I'm concerned, however, The Most Serene Republic is, and has been for sometime, one of the most talented bands in indie rock today. "Population" only helps solidify this opinion.

If this is your first time hearing of The Most Serene Republic (which it very well could be), it should be noted that the band's approach to making music is very unique. Vocals, though well-performed, are often kept at or below the level of the instrumentation making them sound more like another instrument than the sole focus of the music. And the music itself is erratic as it gets, constantly evolving and erupting out of your speakers. This is largely how it was on their first album, though they take it to a whole other level here! Listening to The Most Serene Republic is a sonic experience, to be sure.

The album begins with "Humble Peasants," a 3 1/2 minute instrumental that really gets things going on the right track. The sounds of violins warming up open up the album nicely, before making way for marimbas, trumpets, scattered percussion, and of course more violins. Eventually, the song bursts with a groovy bass line and a more aggressive drum line (not to mention whistling that is very reminiscent of that tune from Kill Bill). "Compliance" is the first time that vocals really come into play, and they are absolutely everywhere! Male and female vocals trade off while lush harmonies, adding depth to an already bottomless song. "The Men Who Live Upstairs" calms things down a bit (at least for the first half of the song), with a cool acoustic guitar riff and more subdued and coherent vocals. The lyrics here are fairly impressive too ("Uncontrolled division of cells from the men who live upstairs, drowning us in saturation..."), and the song truly shines on the album.

The next song, "Present of Future End" may begin like your standard indie rock anthem, but true to form, the band deconstructs it into something much more chaotic and audibly challenging. The song literally has so many twists and turns that it's tough to keep track of it all. There's no defining verse-chorus structure to it, but it ultimately ends up being one of the most moving tracks on "Population" due to it's phenomenal instrumentation. "A Mix of Sun and Cloud" is another extended instrumental track, but this time the band jumps head first into an unrelenting, upbeat jazz sound; complete with solos from trumpet, piano, and even an organ. It's a beautiful song, and really showcases the musicianship of the band quite nicely.

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" lacks a truly affecting melody, but it features some great instrumentation and probably the most impressive drumming on the whole album. Despite this, the song is a clear low point on the album, but it's followed by what is arguably the strongest track on the album, "Why So Looking Back." The song features a contagious guitar line that is complemented perfectly by distant hand claps, not to mention a really stellar vocal performance ("Why so looking baaaaaaaack?"). The first time I listened to "Population" this song just stood out to me. After listening to it several times now, it's clear that that was not a fluke. "Sherry and Her Butterfly Net" continues the greatness with more perfect vocals, though it's instrumentation can be a bit dull at times.

From here, the album just gets stranger and stranger. "Agenbite of Inwit" sounds like the soundtrack to an animated Tim Burton film (think Corpse Bride) but never really comes off as more than anything but filler. Still, at least it's decent filler. "Solipsism Millionaires" is far from filler, however, and is probably the hardest that the band has ever "rocked." The drums and guitars are just ridiculous, and they even throw in a baritone saxophone for good measure (yes, they can rock too). That leads us to the strangest track on the album, "Multiplication Desks," a song that features so little instrumentation that you'll question whether you're listening to the same band. The entire first half of the song relies solely on a steady drum beat to keep everything moving along. As always though, the song erupts into an all-out noise fest before once again calming things towards the end. Similarly, the album's final track, "Neurasthenia" features everything from a bass-heavy electronic beat to a merry piano solo and sing song "la la las." It's a beautiful ending to an incredible, breathtaking album!

Did I lose you? I'm sorry. Basically the point that I was trying to make over the last few paragraphs is this: BUY THIS ALBUM! You will absolutely not regret it! I don't get my kicks from running around saying every band I listen to is one of indie rock's most-talented. So know that The Most Serene Republic is the real deal. They're definitely not for everybody, but for those willing to give the band an open mind, I think you'll come away pleasantly surprised. "Population" not only builds upon the band's sound from their previous works, but completely leaves it in the dust! It is a fun, unrelenting, chaotic, and amazing album that absolutely everyone should hear!

Recommended for fans of The Most Serene Republic, Broken Social Scene, and anyone willing to be wowed.

Key Tracks:
1. "Compliance"
2. "The Men Who Live Upstairs"
3. "Why So Looking Back"
4. "Career in Shaping Clay"
5. "Solipsism Millionaires"

8 out of 10 Stars

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