When Plants and Animals’ debut full-length album Parc Avenue came out in 2008, it took me some time to even give it an initial listen. As a former resident of Montreal, I was a little jaded of all these ‘Montreal Bands’ coming out of the woodwork. But when I finally put Parc Avenue into the old music box, it almost instantly became one of my favourites of that calendar year. The album’s lush and airy sound transported me back to Montreal’s Parc Avenue, where city meets nature; hipster meets hippy.
Where Parc Avenue takes a stroll through a charming neighbourhood green space, Plants & Animals’ new release La La Land cuts across hot California asphalt, through a vast urban maze. As the name suggests, La La Land appears to use American pop culture, particularly L.A./Hollywood as a sort of loose muse. Opening track “Tom Cruz” sets the grittier tone for the record. Singer Warren Spicer seems to deliver the lyrics through clenched teeth, giving the song a sort of controlled anger. Other Cali references include song titles like “American Idol” and “Game Shows,” and the track listing on the liner notes is hand-written on a piece of note paper from the Kon Tiki Inn in Prismo Beach. “American Idol” stands out with its upbeat, tongue-in-cheek self-indulgence, complete with borderline silly lyrics and sax blasts.
Along with the overall rougher edge to the album, the band explores a much broader sonic palette on La La Land, with more synth, as well as french horn, trumpet and the aforementioned saxophone. There are a couple instances where Parc Avenue sounds show through, most notably on single “The Mama Papa,” which moves along a very determined pace, except for Spicer’s vocals, which deftly sway along and seem to just barely keep up with the rhythm.
Sophomore records are a tough ticket, especially when the debut was as popular as Parc Avenue (which made the short list for the Polaris Prize). Bands are charged with the decision of whether to make a simple extension of their debut, or to challenge themselves at the risk of alienating their fans. With La La Land, Plants and Animals have done a bit of the latter, but with hints of the former. Where Parc Avenue was an all-the-way-through type of record, La La Land has its lull points and takes some time to get into, but it’s a grower, like grass in the cracks of the sidewalk.
Record DetailsReleased: 2010
Record Label: Secret City Records