Monday, December 15, 2008

21 Tandem Repeats—No Junk Mail Please (Canada Lynx)
I must tread carefully here because our man Super Robertson has taken an occasional drubbing with this here album, and I feel some pressure to weigh in and save the day by bestowing album of the year honours upon No Junk Mail Please. It's difficult to review friends' work. I mean, if I didn't know these people and this crossed my desk, would I really give it a chance? If I did throw it on, I'm sure I'd quickly appreciate its spirit and lack of pandering 'n' posturing and clichéd boy/girl angst bullshit. And I'd dig the marauding, smoke-laced vibe of "Heidi Stopover." Yeah, lots to like in these 36 minutes.

However, I'm not some distant pair of impartial ears. I've seen 21 Tandem Repeats play, on average, every month for the last three years. I know what they're capable of on stage. Based on that, and based on what I hear on No Junk Mail Please, maybe it's time to don my picky pants and administer some tough love. I've often thought that past Robertson releases had production that was a little too polite for the music at hand. While this sometimes suited the jazzier, busier moments of his former band Roadbed, it stamps down the dynamics of 21 TR's more direct, groove-based sound. This isn't much of a problem at the album's outset—the first four numbers whiz by enjoyably—but the trio of songs in the middle takes the album down a sleepy little path. "The Key of 5," with its skittish rhythm section and wandering lead guitar, feels like it was still being worked up in the studio. (Although I don't advocate the band redoing old tracks, I'd like to hear them take another crack at this one—the song has a solid hook that needs to be exploited.) "Mr. Greenie," the last of this trio, should have been the song to take the album to a new peak. I've seen the band rip this number up live many times, but here it merely grooves along amiably, in a situation where the stomping of distortion pedals is required—which Robertson’s old foil Shockk could have supplied if this was a Roadbed track. A new, twangified recording of SUPERSIMIAN's "On Frozen Pond" helps put the band back on track, but the odd choice to follow it up with a cover song featuring a guest vocalist only reveals another pothole to negotiate. While I have nothing against the song (Roger Dean Young is godhead in my book) or Rebecca Till's voice, the sudden shift of style and tone makes it feel like the band have left the building.

So, I think this album features a few missteps from our heroes. That’s how it goes sometimes. Knowing how hard Robertson works to keep music in his life, he’s to be saluted, not belittled, and if you drop by the Supper Show and like the band, then you should pick this up. But now I want to hear the “rage hero” in Robertson's music. I know he’s got it in him. I hear a hint of it in the tense edge to his voice on “Disappear.” And if he wants to balance that sort of crankiness with jubilant expressions of hope along the lines of “Robertson’s Dream Orchard” (track 2), that would suit me just fine.

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