Friday, October 19, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1190: The Crackling

I was out late last night so I’m quite pleased with myself that I got up early anyway. The day is mine! Then again, I am kind of sleepy so after I finish this review, maybe it’ll be nap time.

Disc 1190 is… Keep Full Ambitious

Artist: The Crackling

Year of Release: 2009

What’s up with the Cover? Fire at the mill! Or something. I’m not sure what is on fire here – maybe a dock on a lake? There appears to be a perigee syzygy underway as well.

Yeah – I had to look that term up. Feel free to do the same.

How I Came To Know It: Back in 2009 our friends Sherylyn and Joel introduced us to Dan Mangan through his “Nice Nice, Very Nice” album (reviewed back at Disc 879). We went to see him live at the Alix Goolden hall. Mangan’s drummer at the time was Kenton Loewen. Loewen was also the front man, guitarist and songwriter of a band called the Crackling and they opened for Mangan. I liked what I heard so I bought his album from the merch table.

Fun fact: Loewen briefly played drums in Mother Mother as well, although not when I saw them.

How It Stacks Up:  This is the only album I have by the Crackling so it can’t stack up.

Ratings: 2 stars but almost 3

Canadian folk-rock tends to feature a lot of layered sound, and the singer’s vocals tend to warble a bit. The lyrics are interesting but it takes a while to pick up what the songs are about. The guitar tends to have a bit of reverb, but only to make an echo, not a snarl. It’s smooth and polite on the surface; self-examined and complex underneath. This is the Cracklings.

“Keep Full Ambitious” is an apt title for this album. This is a record that eschews catch ear-worms for a broader sound with complex melodies that sometimes delighted me and sometimes left me frustrated and wanting…less.

There is plenty to like on the record, starting with “Geppetto,” a jaunty little tune with a ragtime jazz feel and some delightful work from pianist Tyson Naylor. This song is also as close to the album gets to radio friendly. It is a song that features themes of control, and how we both pull the strings of others, all he while having our own pulled as well. I’m not sure where Loewen lands on the whole thing, but I like the way he explores it, incorporating dark humour with lines like:

“Because I came to read your paper
And it was your dog that bit me
She knew that blood, that flavour
It’s not easy to forget me.

I also loved the heartbreaking “Of Deceit.” The tune is cold and stark, like a frozen lake where the ice is dangerously thin Loewen explores a love betrayed and as he sings “It’s not wrong for you to go now” you can tell the narrator doesn’t want that outcome, but realizes it’s what he deserves.

The rest of the album is good (particularly the first half) but the bravery the Cracklings display on song construction sometimes makes them hard to follow.

Loewen’s singing is heartfelt and honest, but not super powerful or rangy and the arrangements are lush and packed, making it that much harder to pick him out of the auditory crowd.

The album only has 11 songs but is over 50 minutes of music and many of the songs go on a bit too long. “I Am Your Rogue (Ode to a Woman)” is about as overblown as you’d expect from the title, and it ends with about a minute of idle guitar noodling that didn’t add anything for me. “First Drop” starts off as a promising duet with Debra Jean Creelman, but it ends in that oft-used mistake in indie music – a long outro of frenetic instrumentals. Loewen resolves the melody artfully at the end, proving he’s doing it all deliberately, not as a shortcut, but by the time he got there I was feeling fidgety.

For all my minor issues with production, on balance I still like “Keep Full Ambitious”. On my first listen I was planning to give it a way, but by the third time through it had won me over again, which is a good sign for any record.

Best tracks: Geppetto, Of Deceit

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