Woodpigeon – [Album]

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

There are times when there’s just something instantly classic about an album and, while it might not be easy to place at first, it’s most definitely there and anyone listening knows it from the moment the record starts playing. It might be the beat that does it, it might be the inclusion of some well-worn riffs or instrumental motifs, it might even be something as simple as a familiar timbre in the singer’s voice – but there’s something and, when it registers with listeners, it guarantees interest (who doesn’t love that moment when the picture materializes before all the dots are connected?) and appreciation.

Woodpigeon’s Treasury Library Canada is that kind of record.

Originally released in 2008 but only available via the group’s web site or off the stage at concerts, Treasury Library Canada is Woodpigeon’s sophomore long-playing effort but, instead of scrambling to put together scrap material and call it the follow-up to Songbook, the original release established Woodpigeon as a completely different sort of band from anything else in Canadian rock because it looks bock musically to find its place but doesn’t exactly adhere to any pre-existing methodology.

That isn’t to say that TLC browbeats listeners with its own exceptionally unique virtues and stature though. After offering a little back story and warm-up with the finely appointed EP Houndstooth Europa and offering a sort of blueprint to trace the growth made between releases, with icy guitars hanging above drums pulled right out of the classic rock bible (exactly the same beat and same percussive tonality appeared in Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels”), Treasury Library Canada’s opening track, “Knock Knock,” weaves an intricate and ornate tapestry so inviting that listeners are instantly and happily engulfed and, once inside, singer Mark Andrew Hamilton’s delicate and carefully enunciated tenor reassures them that there is nothing to fear here.

With those willing attendees to this delicate and romantic ceremony seated and made comfortable, Woodpigeon sets to joining two sounds thought previously to be mutually exclusive – singer-songwriter folk and Canadian indie rock – together in a sublime harmony. As is customary for good luck in such ceremonies, the band brings a few recognizable and revered elements to the altar: trepid but heart-warming melodies and harmonies in the vein of Simon and Garfunkel intermingled with the brand of minor-key tension Radiohead put into demand but it’s all more polished and resolved with larger and more ambitious orchestrations (think Arcade Fire and/or The Dears). Those pieces make up the ‘something old’ and ‘something new’ and, given the nature of the way it’s all presented here, also takes care of the ‘borrowed’ and ‘blue’ components. With all of that in place, listeners find themselves being treated to a glowing, sepia tone-hued performance that plays to the romance inherent to the aforementioned influences (acoustic guitars flesh out the sentiments and also give them a nostalgic quality) but also updating them with some new ideas and orchestrations that, while very obvious and upfront, aren’t novel and compliment, rather than overtake the music.

In spite of the regular minor key usage and resulting trepidation that creeps around the edges of the proceedings, there is no dissonance implied or performed here as Woodpigeon trips through songs including “Anna, Girl In The Clock Tower,” “7th Fret Over Andres” and “Piano Pieces For Beginners” – there are moments of loneliness, insecurity  and a general sense of worry between the horn snippets and Hamilton’s guitar but, like those that run through the mind of any groom on his wedding day, they’re tempered (and in some cases overshadowed completely) by a very strong current of hope in Hamilton’s voice that makes any and every possible problem or obstacle worrisome certainly, but alright at the end of the day. The end result of such an exposition of cathartic optimism leaves listeners feeling an unexplainable warmth in the pit of their stomachs and the bottoms of their hearts – some will even find themselves with a satisfied little smile washing over their faces. How often does a record provoke a reaction like that anymore? What Woodpigeon has done here is something genuinely remarkable: they’ve managed to tap into an emotional centre left largely unused in pop since such emotional outpourings became unfashionable around 1990 – wonderment at possibility.

With the advent of alt-rock a couple of decades ago, heartache, anger, resentment, frustration, hatred (of both the in and outward looking varieties), sarcasm ennui and general unhappiness (among a couple of others, to a lesser degree) ended up getting the prime real estate in the pop pantheon and, although musical fads have been torn down and rebuilt a few times since then, those themes have remained at the forefront of music ever since. Woodpigeon might experience them in the periphery of their vision, but at the center of everything they’ve got on both Treasury Library Canada and Houndstooth Europa the overwhelming impression that there is nothing that cannot be overcome is unavoidable. It’s been so long since it happened, it’ll confuse listeners on first listen, but they’ll go back and listen again because anything that feels that good is always addictive.


Woodpigeon Songbook web site

Woodpigeon Myspace
Woodpigeon – Treasury Library Canada download

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