Sloan — Commonwealth (Yep Roc)
If you don’t know the story, Sloan is one of those groups that got its start as labelmates alongside the likes of Nirvana and Teenage Fanclub in the early ‘90s during that whole grunge/indie rock mania that seemed to grip the music industry for that small window of time. Since then, the Canadian quartet has spent the past quarter century being fiercely embraced by its countrymen while developing a diehard cult following in the Lower 48. And while bewilderment ensues when you consider that Sloan has established itself as a rock-solid power-pop outfit whose sound varied depending on which of Sloan’s four singer-songwriters were taking the lead on whatever song was being played, the boys have still managed to forge a sturdy canon nonetheless steeped in clever lyricism, muscular riffing and hooks a-plenty.
It’s no different with Commonwealth, which finds each member being assigned a quarter of the record to do with as they want with as their own creative suite.
Jay Ferguson’s five songs are distinguished by his wide-eyed and sunny songwriting style that yields gems like “You’ve Got a Lot On Your Mind” and “Cleopatra,” with the latter bouncing along on a rumbling bass line and cascading piano runs while the former is a solid ear worm that bounces along with a sweetness provided by a chorus that goes, “Oooo, P.S. I like you/No, don’t be cool/P.S. I like you.” Chris Murphy is next up and he keeps the quality going with the jangly “Carried Away” and its juxtaposition of finger snaps and string arrangements balancing out the simple yet clever lyrical sentiment, “She carried on but got carried away.”
Equally engaging is the more Beatlesque downer “So Far So Good,” which skewers its cynicism on lines like, “Don’t be surprised when we elect another liar/Did you learn nothing from five seasons of The Wire?” Patrick Pentland’s four songs find him a slightly heavier hand which winds up lending nice balance be it through the dirty-sounding acid-rock of “13 (Under a Bad Sign)” or the swirling psychedelia of “What’s Inside.” Capping it all off is Andrew Scott’s ambitious 18-minute pop suite “Forty-Eight Portraits,” which somehow manages to weave in such disparate elements as baroque horn arrangements, bouncy harmonies and an angelic children’s choir singing an eerie refrain of “and we’re saying a prayer for you/We can understand it, why can’t you?”
It’s all a testament to the brilliance of this foursome that continues to be one of Canada’s best-kept secrets for some unfathomable reason. (Sloan will be appearing on Nov. 12 at Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St. in NYC. For more information, please call 866-858-0008 or visit www.boweryballroom.com.)