Saturday, July 12, 2008
Simian Special—The Cougar Stands Its Ground (SN Ratio)
Max (Sim Special) Arnason is a huge talent on the local scene, whether as part of the legendary Roadbed in their final days, teaming up with Super Robertson for a marvelous one-off album, or designing gig posters and CD packaging (he did stuff for my favourite Norse troll Mortiis, for Odin’s sake). The guy’s voice can transition effortlessly between a Martin Tielli-esque earnestness and David Lee Roth's partay yelp. Get him behind the drum kit, and he’s a similarly commanding presence. To see him take the stage at the Supper Show is always a treat. Simian Special is his own baby, a quartet with tight songs rooted in guitars from the 4AD school of texture—imagine a more gregarious Cure or a Rheostatics who’ve shucked off the burden of forging our national identity. The arrangements are detailed and precisely rendered, very much like Sim’s own visual designs. The drums snap, the harmonies soar, the guitars chime, synths snake in the background—something’s always going on. For me, the experience of listening to the album was a process of absorbing the minutiae over the course of a few airings, and after that the songs and hooks emerged in all their glory. There are an awful lot of 3 1/2 minute songs to take in—16 in all—so there’s a risk that some will be lost in the clutter. Nevertheless, there are a number of tunes I wouldn’t want to live without, like the hard charging “Frank Slide” (joining my own "Hope Slide" in the canon of songs named after western Canadian natural disasters) and “Solid Hole.” The high point of the album for me, though, is “Beloved Jane,” which gracefully unfurls a single chord progression, drapes a compelling vocal and ethereal guitar overtop and results in something majestic—their very own “Plainsong,” if you will. Graceful and unpretentious, it’s beautiful work.