Plants and Animals
Plants and Animals’ début album, from back in 2008, is an historic document now, the last gasp of the Montréal scene of the early 00s, the one that gave us bands like Wolf Parade, We Are Wolves, Suuns, The Dears, Stars, the Besnard Lakes, Les Georges Leningrad, Duchess Says, PyPy, AIDS Wold, Malajube, and, of course, Arcade Fire. This was a time and it was a place, as the jubilant indie culture of the Mile End neighbourhood took over the world. Plants and Animals released Parc Avenue as that scene died, and it is now a memorial to it, and, for me, it is also a memorial to a time and a place in my life. I moved to the Mile End about 15 minutes before it exploded as Montréal’s next hip neighbourhood in the fall of 2000. Even after I relocated to the sud-ouest in 2002, I still had friends up in the Mile End and visited a lot, also because it is home to the best bagels (Saint-Viateur) and coffee (Café Olympico, aka: Open Da Nite). And it was also the best place to watch the big soccer tournaments, the World Cup and the Euros.
Av. du Parc is one of the city’s major north/south thoroughfares and the main such road in the Mile End, and on that album, frontman Warren Spicer sings of the vicious heat of a Montréal summer, having to close all the windows whilst recording because ‘we don’t want no soccer fans getting on the record.’ Parc Avenue was this stunning collection of essentially jam rock welded together with indie rock. It was epic, beautiful, and it was an instant classic. Since then, Plants and Animals have released four more albums, including The Jungle, and have explored new sonic textures on each. I am particularly partial to their 2010 album, La La Land, I have to say. Yet, despite the distinct sounds and textures on each album, there is something about Plants and Animals that is instantly recognizable, whether it is chord progressions, arrangements, etc, to say nothing of Spicer’s voice. On The Jungle, in a lot of ways, it’s like they threw out their playbook, their history playing around with jam band music, indie rock, countrified rockers, and straight ahead rock’n’roll, and instead here, mined the 80s, dug deeper into their sound, re-arranged their textual landscape. The result is a clearly distinguishable Plants and Animals album, in that those earlier signatures remain, but an entirely different sound.
This is, without a doubt, their most sonically adventurous album. Quite often when bands take a left turn into a new soundscape, the results can be downright scary, or worse, shitastic. See, for example, Strokes, The. But the trio that forms Plants and Animals (Spicer, vocals and guitar; Nicolas Basque, bass, synth, guitar, vocals; Matthew Woodley, drums, vocals) are assured musicians, and closely in tune with each other. In fact, this is something their collective oeuvre demonstrates, they are a much tighter band than they were in 2006-8.
The album opens with the title track, constructed around a furiously fast beat from Woodley and, here, Spicer playing bass and Basque handling synths. Adèle Trottier-Rivard provides percussion and some background vocals. The track itself is a leftover from Waltzed in from the Rumbling (2016), refashioned here and given new life by Spicer. And listening to it, the motorik beat, it’s clear Plants and Animals have camouflaged themselves once more.
‘Love That Boy’ puts us back in more familiar sonic territory, I have to say, as Spicer gives us a song constructed around the odd feeling of alienation that comes with growing up. In this case, it allowed him to make peace with his now-deceased parents, the fact that he’s a father, and he draws on a childhood memory in the backseat of his parents’ car in his hometown of Halifax, NS.
‘House of Fire’ opens up with a shimmering synth and then explodes into the motorik beat and pulsing bass guitar, as Spicer imagines the world as the house on fire, in some ways, I find this song to be a 2020 analog to Spirit of the West’s 1990 track ‘Save This House,’ another cri de couer about the environment and state of the world. They say this song gets its weird off-kilter vibe through the old Korg synth that Basque ran it through, and both Spicer and Woodley claim Basque hates this song. Me, on the other hand, I love it. It has that epic quality of that old Spirit of the West song mixed with Talking Headsesque funky forays.
‘Sacrifice,’ for me, is the best of the album. Beginning with this rhythmic cycle, which works to sort of lull us into a peace, with Spicer’s vocals, half-mumbled and floating over the music, it suddenly breaks into a straight-ahead song, jarring us, the listener, back into reality and Spicer’s vocals coming into focus:
I gave you the best years of my life, babe
Volunteered on your behalf
Sacrifice it doesn’t matter
For dopamine and lots of laughs, babe.
And suddenly, we realize we’re listening to a song about the confusion and lost feeling of life and in its glory and misery. And it is a classic Plants and Animals song for the different sections of the song, the tonal shifts, and the fact that the three band members are completely in synch.
That segues into ‘Get My Mind,’ which draws on Parc Avenue‘s ‘À l’orrée du bois,’ with the pretty plucked guitars, though perhaps it remains a less focused track. This is not a criticism, however. We end with ‘Bold,’ which, after all the band’s sonic wanderings, takes us back to a more familiar musical style, and this song would not be out of place on either The End of That (2012) or Waltzed. And then it’s over.
Clocking in at all of 35 minutes, this is a short album, a quick venture, one that does not over-stay its welcome.