“If there was ever a time to make some weird sort of A Quick One, While He’s Away by The Who, now is the time to do it,” said Andrew Scott of Sloan on his quarter of their new album. The Canadian rock-and-roll kings decided to try things a little differently their 11th time around and allow each band member creative license for one side of the double LP. The result: four solo albums nicely packaged into one cute, uncompetitive Sloan double vinyl that’s still a vessel for their enduring Beatles-like sound.
The album art conveys a kind of nostalgia: a postcard, a Polaroid, a handwritten receipt. The image fronting the compilation feels appropriate for a band of almost 25 years. Sloan is like a ’92 BMW cabriolet, a soulful vehicle that runs the same as the day you bought it, that’s been around and knows how to show you a good time. On this album they popped the hood to show off their talents as the individual parts of a well-oiled machine.
Over the phone, Scott spoke about this album structure, which he expressed was the only different aspect of the songwriting process, “We said we each get our own real estate to deal with, between 17 and 20 minutes of vinyl space to play with. Now what do you want to do with it?” Scott’s process unsurprisingly came across as being completely natural, “I had 10 or 12 little songlets and asked how are they going to be assembled into one thing? It kind of took care of itself in a lot of ways.” Andrew’s side, entitled 48 Portraits, is the last on the LP but was the opener for their live show in Montreal this past Thursday.
Out of the dark a boisterous dog bark gets the sonic wave rolling. A tambourine tap is followed by layers of ethnic like percussion and dissonant, minor piano. The dog’s bark returns sporadically. The commotion builds and bursts into a hazy, catchy, rock rhythm, and finally some raw Gretsch cuts through. For the next ten minutes we’re carried through a hooky, Sloany, rock n roll fun house reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper’s. Horns, harmonies, and chromatic licks lead into strings, and children’s voices of whom belong to Andrew’s kids and their buds. On their part Andrew remarked, “They fuckin nailed it.” The epic wraps-up with a repeated heavy, dazed, Zep like rift and buzzes into silence.
The different soundscapes are captured on the album more fully than in live performance. “After we finished mixing and mastering this giant doubt cloud crept over me and I said ‘Oh my God what have I done,’” said Andrew on the completion of 48 portraits. But fronting the band in a black leather jacket and shades, silver wisps of hair peeking out under his cap, he captured the crowd for all 17 minutes. It was a great build-up to the rest of the bands new material alongside oldies as far back as Ill Placed Trust off their first album Smeared.
Near the beginning of the set Chris Murlphy and Patrick Pentland played their new songs Misty’s Beside Herself and Take It Easy respectively which contribute some of the best new classic catchy Sloan to their rep. Patrick’s new album Shamrock (my favourite on the LP) is a hard, tight set of tunes with some punkier rifts and scratchy psychedelic solos. His songs were balanced nicely by Jay Ferguson’s quality classic ‘60s rock sound and tone of voice eerily resembling of John Lennon. Jay’s musical input lies at the core of Sloan’s sound and his laid-back presence on stage is that of a pro, a real communicator. When he’s not singing his eyes constantly scan the audience for vibes and connection.
The show was a tight, effortless, cool set completely characteristic of the crew. It was everything you expect from Sloan: great quality rock-and-roll played by pros who care about the music and their fans. After the show the band mingled with a thinned out crowd on the floor cracking jokes and giving people the time of day. Sloan has always been the everyman’s rock band. Meeting at NSCAD in Halifax, NS and spring boarding from the grunge boom of the early ‘90s, it’s nice that after 23 years they still value a down-to-earth way of doing business.
After the show, some of Andrew’s artwork hangs behind the merch table. They’re black and white prints, the contrast revealing a sentence of linear, vertical, impressions created with drumsticks. It was refreshing to see alongside records and t-shirts; a big band selling their work outside of the band. It reminds you of the lives and families these guys have outside of Sloan and that being in the band is also a job and has been a lifelong investment. “It’s like a small business that we’ve managed to keep afloat for 23 years,” says Andrew, “We’re all still equally involved and interested, and we’ve all invested our entire adult lives into it. This is going to generate some money for my kids when I’m long gone, probably not a lot of money but something and that’s a comforting little notion.”
The well roundedness of the band is obviously something that stems from the balance they’ve mastered in their own lives between family, business, and art. Sloan has it down and Andrew explains the legacy that one could argue they’ve already achieved but strive for, “I’m glad we’re still around, making good music and building a body of work that I think will last. That’s the most important thing, what you’re going to leave behind. If we leave behind great rock n roll records then we’ve succeeded ten fold.”
Sloan played at La Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent) on November 27.