Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Shakespearian Pop Rock: Adam Strangler at Divan Orange

Adam Strangler at Divan Orange

Shakespearian Pop Rock | Antoine Leclerc

“When I wrote these lyrics, I was in a really big Shakespeare phase,” says Adam Strangler’s guitarist and frontman Phil Lavoie when I ask him why the lyrics of all the pieces on his band’s first EP Sweet Dust are about human relationships. “I study literature, and so I was really into that stuff, into sonnets.” For all the folks out there who would be tempted to devote the entirety of their focus to the musical side of Adam Strangler’s poppy-sounding indie-rock, I hope Lavoie’s words serve as a proper warning: these lyrics deserve careful attention.

Sweet Dust is full of storytelling gems: Nippon Love is an ode to a friend of theirs who has a marked preference for Asian women, while Deaf Talk describes an empty conversation with an annoying person (“so many words to say nothing at all”), and Shallows deals with the theme of rejecting the love of someone superficial. Fun stuff, to say the least. For the music lovers who like when songs tell them stories, Adam Strangler’s arrival surely comes as refreshing. Indeed, even if Montreal-based indie-rock bands usually have good lyrics, it’s still fairly rare they tell such intricate tales. Lavoie even purposefully makes the characters of his little fables ambiguous gender-wise: “I found it interesting to [come up] with gender-neutral songs,” Lavoie explains. “That's especially true for Portrait of a Lady.” In that song, it is indeed very hard to tell if the narrator has a crush on a girl or a boy. Damn, shouldn’t more literature students write rock songs? I sure think so.

However, despite the lyrics being a very central part of Adam Strangler’s oeuvre, it would be outrageous not to mention that the music that these four boys play while singing them is all glee and glam. Their idea from the get-go was to play a light-hearted, glamorous kind of rock and roll, without taking themselves too seriously; they even call it “confetti rock”. The “about” section of their Facebook page summarizes their approach quite well: “We don’t want to make a huge statement or re-define what rock music is, but rather enjoy ourselves while staying true, creating music that represents what we would like to hear right here, right now.”
Given how light-hearted and joyful the goal was when the band was created, it should come as no surprise that the result is so delightfully merry. This quartet’s music has the potential to please the pop fan just as much as the rock fan, thanks to the healthy balance between its feel-good vibe and its complexity. The songs whose skeletons are put together by Lavoie, and then jammed into their final form with the whole band in the practice space, do not rely on any cheap trick to sound good. Aside from its well-crafted guitar riffs, its boppy melodies, and its stop-on-a-dime movement shifts, Adam Strangler also seeks to give its rock and roll a strong vocal identity: “I wanted to form a band like Kiss, in which everyone sings,” says Lavoie, with a big grin. “Right from the start, it was clear that I was setting up four microphones in the jam space!” “At the beginning,” bassist Jean-Philippe Bourgeois continues, “we also told ourselves that the Montreal scene is so lo-fi… Bands whose vocals you only half-hear. We’re all fans of lo-fi and garage, but, as we started, we told ourselves: ‘We want to make hi-fi music’.”

Thus, on the stage of Divan Orange on February 14th, four microphones were standing strong, ready to be yelled into by this cheerful team. When they opened with the “woo-ooo-ooh”s-filled piece Boys, the tone was set. What followed is an avalanche of smile-provoking, nods-inducing rock songs that got the audience cheering and singing along. Taking small pauses to utter smart-ass little jokes, Lavoie looked like he was living up to his motto and enjoying himself thoroughly. The same can be said of ever-grinning lead guitarist Fred Nogarede, whose two University-of-North-Carolina-blue guitars were exquisitely strummed to give birth to outstanding solos. Meanwhile, Carl St-Louis drummed along Bourgeois’ bass lines in flawless sync, a common effort that took care of the rhythm section in amazing fashion. The two laid the foundation for the band’s dynamic song structure with youthful energy and sheer skill.

The public even had the honour of hearing a new song, the mean-sounding Ericson. In that hard-hitting, hazardously groovy piece, it seems like the band’s general playfulness was infused with a bit of badassness, with very convincing results. It was yet another demonstration of the depth of these boys’ pop-rock, as well as a proof that they’re still at work and coming up with new material (luckily for us all).

I suggest all fun rock fans keep a very close eye on this band. Their very solid work is worth any indie-rock adept’s attention.
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