Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue

Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue
Secret City Records – 4 Stars

Ladies and gentlemen, by now you should be familiar with the fruit of Montreal’s scene: Islands, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the mighty Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, et al. But you don’t know Montreal. No, until now the scene has lacked a unifying voice, a sound to call its own. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Plants and Animals.
Parc Avenue, named for the street in Montreal’s hip Mile End neighborhood where band members Warren Spicer, Matthew Woodley, and Nicolas Basque live and spent the last three years working on what would become this album, is a hike up Mont Royal for a full view of the city’s drapery. It’s quite a task, to be sure, as are the group’s attempts to shift from fellow Canadian Neil Young freak-jams to Toronto indie pop to feathery guitar jammers. Traditional verse-chorus-verse song structures quickly fade to slanted style bends; opener “Bye Bye Bye” blends My Morning Jacket, Coldplay, and Queen comfortably.
And I mean comfortably. Despite Plants and Animals’ ambition (three tracks here run near the seven-minute mark), they never seem to be in over their heads, whether settling into sweater grooves on “Good Friend” or wah-jamming over Broken Social Scene throwaways on “Feedback in the Field.” Even when the guitars are at their most dissonant, Parc Avenue never comes across as anything more than three guys playing in their apartment on a Saturday afternoon with the windows open, bangin’ out jams and grinning in between runs to the poutine shop. This is what makes Parc Avenue a winner. It’s ambitious without being annoying, boundary-pushing without alienating the listener. It stays far enough on Devendra’s side of freak to avoid being boring, but it never gives us more than we can handle. It is, at the end of the day, a pop record, despite what lengthy tracks, the presence of a gospel choir, and a chorus of Québécois-accented cheerleaders may tell you.
There are the obvious great tracks here – the aforementioned “Good Friend;” the spiky guitar, fiddle, and piano jam of “Faerie Dance;” the snaky post-rock of “Keep it Real” – but the sleeper here is the poncho-folk “Early in the Morning.” While the other tracks are more than happy to raise their fringed leather sleeves to the sky and wail, the band show a taste and restraint the belies their age, coming across as a mix between recent Wilco and Déjà Vu-era Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with their soft hand-drumming and quiet guitar runs.
Of course, Parc Avenue is not a perfect record. “Keep It Real”’s long fade-out should been the end of the album, but the group instead tack on a seven-minute jam on what sounds like a sitar and a chorus of guitars. It’s an alienating ending to a record that has, up to this point, been so intimate. Hippie culture is big in Montreal – anyone who has seen les tam-tams in the Parc on a Sunday afternoon can attest to that – but “Guru” keeps its bare feet too deep in Bonnaroo territory and feels largely out of place here.
It’s a small matter, though. There’s love to spare on Parc Avenue, whether via overt messaging (“A New Kind of Love”) or the obvious love that the group has for its musical heritage. They manage to tackle Dave Matthews-style soul without sounding ironic and North American indie pop without sounding pretentious. But the real love here, the love that makes Parc Avenue the kind of record that refuses to be tossed into the black hole of the CD tower, is the love that the group has for Montreal itself. Parc Avenue has the city’s name written all over it, from the bilingual title to the picture of Parc Mont Royal on the cover, but its honesty means that it could have been written anywhere at any time. It is paradoxically trapped forever at home while at the same time being so well-made as to be completely free of its constraints. In that way, Plants and Animals become Montreal’s true ambassadors to the world of music.


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