OK quiet at the back, you’re about to learn something. Fuck ‘School of Rock’ this is where you can really get an education. Not necessarily from reading this review, but by listening to The Band Whose Name Is A Symbol (TBWNIAS). This is the Canadian collective from Ottawa who are not so much influenced by great music of the past but drenched in it, rock and roll comes out of every pore of their performance.
I have written plenty about this band before (click here for a selection) so I’m not going to go into it again, but let’s just say that I rate this band very highly; and particularly appreciate their open and sharing approach to music; and the care an dedication they take in playing it. A great example of this is how a member of the band does a wood carving (see below) to mark each album. This tells me that their albums are not thrown together but curated in a sort of holistic way.
But on with the lesson. I have always associated TBWNIAS albums with coming straight out of the traps and right in your face. This though has a calmer start as ‘Kolban’ opens with a single quiet drone which feels like a invocation to listen, but very soon breaks out into a typically raucous track which is at the same time dense and joyous. The band are quickly in their stride and powering through the gears. After that start ‘Eat The Maraca’ sees things slowing down. This is a very considered track with, you feel, everything carefully in it’s place. Yes this is a band who thrive on spontaneity and ‘the moment’ (the album was recorded in a single day), but also play with a certain discipline honed from hours of jamming.
As I have previously written the next track, ‘Loomis’, “is another fantastic slice of your record collection (because it’s representative of the band’s record collection), and even more this track is dedicated to the late Andrew Loomis, drummer of American punk band Dead Moon, who died earlier this year at the age of only 54. All I can say is that it’s a fantastic tribute from another great album from a band who just get things right…” By this I didn’t just mean musically right, because another sign of the nature of this band is how many of the tracks are dedicated to the memory of someone…they get their priorities right too.
This makes the album feel like a celebration of people the band have respected and known, something which gives it an extra something; and additional layer of emotion and propriety. As such a track such as ‘Lonesome Cowboy Jill’ gets a new edge, and is one of those typical TBWNIAS tracks which contains riffs and ideas which are familiar…part of that rock and roll sweat which pervades the bands work.
Last up on side one, and this is very much an album of two sides, is ‘Sunburst Finish’ which is another number that really rattles along in a momentum building way making an absolute joy to listen to. So far so great, and pretty much what you want from a TBWNIAS album, superbly played rock and roll that is for the most part upbeat and uplifting; the sort of stuff that you are going to groove in an almost knowing way.
For me, though, side two is different and a far more interesting proposition. Most of this side is taken up by ‘Bridge of Regret’ which, according to the liner notes is “dedicated to our dear friend Mathieu Trudel” a local Ottawa artist (see here for more details of his life and sad death) who clearly meant a lot to the band. With this knowledge one can better appreciate ‘Bridge of Regret’ with it’s much more introverted tone and dissonant space horn. I should say that before I was aware of the story behind it this was the stand out track of the album and, for me, the most complete track that I have heard the band do. It’s the sound of a band putting their collective hearts and souls into their music and as a result I find it to be a hugely moving piece as befits remembering someone who died young. Trudel, I believe, was 37 when he passed away.
The other track on side two, Irene’s Meadow’ is “dedicated to ‘Dorothy ‘Debbie’ Jette”. This track is much less introverted, and feels much more like the celebration of a life. There are some lovely almost pastoral moments to the track, which is much more smooth and less raucous that anything found on side one of this album.
Overall this feels much more than an album, it feels like a snapshot of time in the life of the band. It is a powerful invocation of the ups and downs that its members have experienced over during the time since its predecessor, ‘Masters of the Molehill’. Perhaps, in the end, it is an acknowledgement that all these experiences are moments of learning. Maybe the real education here is how we can express these things in a way that works for us and is appreciated by others. That’s what I take from this album, that and the collective assimilation of the thousands of albums that bring the band their sound.
However you cut it though, it’s been emotional.
With all this is mind you’re going to want to attend the launch of the album, The Inaugural Address, which is streaming live on You Tube this coming Wednesday at 7pm EST (midnight GMT). Details below.
This is a 350 pressing on Cardinal Fuzz Records, with only a handful left from the label itself (here). The album is available from Birdman Sound in Ottawa (the band’s spiritual home), with a few out with selected record stores.