Halifax natives Sloan are celebrating their 20th year as a band with an album full of hook laden power pop perfection. As usual the album title serves as a double meaning. Double cross meaning 2 xs, the Roman numeral for twenty, or perhaps it’s a reference to something more disquieting? It’s the former, not the latter.
It seems that every time one reads about Sloan it’s the same thing: something along the lines of “4 songwriters with distinctive voices and styles”. That is usually followed by a reference to The Beatles, such as the “Canadian Fab 4” or some such nonsense.
It really is a shame that Sloan is not more popular in the U.S. I feel that their albums are strong, for the most part, and nobody anywhere can write a song as good as these guys. I’m not saying that being popular in the United States would mean that they have finally “made it”. I’m just saying that they deserve a worldwide audience and if the U.S. didn’t have such terrible taste in pop music, and people knew what was good for them, they’d be playing Sloan on radios across the country. If more people had a chance to hear them I don’t doubt for a second that they would have a much larger following.
But alas, they are (at least in the United States) something of a cult band, with the inherent small but loyal following. Sloan manages to produce consistently great material even within less popular albums, such as Pretty Together and Action Pact the one-two punch of mediocrity that their fans love to hate. It seems that those two albums went against their sound that usually remained pretty well in tact from album to album with nothing too jarring happening on sequential releases.
Recently they seem to be back on track in a big way with 3 really solidly fantastic albums. “Never Hear the End of It”, an amazing double album from 2006, “Parallel Play” from 2008, the “Hit and Run EP” of 2009 and now “The Double Cross” continues that trend.
Their output, even going back as far as the landmark album “Twice Removed” from 1994, never seemed to follow current trends. Sloan seems content and determined to consistently chart their own path.
Being that they’ve been around for so long, and because of the 4 distinct songwriting styles, Sloan fans have mostly aligned themselves with one band member or another. Much can be written about the distinct stylistic virtues of each member as a songwriter, though I don’t intend to do go down that road. That’s the easy way out. It seems that nobody is too willing to talk about Sloan in terms of the band, Sloan. Fans will often cry out about apparent inconsistencies within albums stemming from the different approaches and sometimes that seems the way to go. Album efforts don’t always feel like band efforts. Sometimes the style shifts from song to song can be a bit much. Perhaps these complaints can be mostly boiled down to fans missing the “good old days” of Sloan.
In my opinion these “good old days” are typically fans projecting unfair expectations onto the band in order to cease forward momentum of their career in order to preserve their own personal memories of that time in their life when they first discovered the band. Music fans, it seems, want bands to stay the same, but not too much the same, because they’ll typically complain either way. Sloan has continued to grow, and for better or worse, have always done their own thing.
Sloan has been around long enough to have “eras”. The most recent such era I would say starts with “Never Hear the End of It”. I feel that this album marks the beginning of a prolifically great songwriting rebirth that followed two albums in which they seemed to be making a concerted effort to change their sound. Since this rebirth it seems as though they have been trying to strike a balance between working separately and working as a band. “Never Hear the End of It” used the technique of melding songs nearly seamlessly together by painstakingly organizing the tracks by key which helped immensely with the flow of the album. They did this before, on their 1999 album “Between the Bridges” though with “Never Hear the End of It” people had a bit more of a difficult time holding interest through to the end, as it was a rather lengthy double album.
That album was put together over an extended period of time, and they documented the process with a series of videos on Youtube that I eagerly anticipated watching each week.
“Parallel Play” was the same return to form but it seems a lot more fragmented. The separation from song to song was far more noticeable, though each of those songs were catchy, well written and impeccably produced. Fans again spoke up about a band that seemed unwilling to work together. Even the name of the album seemed to be admission from the band that they were not really working together, but instead took a “separate but equal” approach, convening later to decide democratically what material would make it to the album.
Following “Parallel Play” was the “Hit & Run” EP. It’s a solid offering that experimented with a digital only release and was the perfect addendum to “Parallel Play”.
As I mentioned before, fans try to lump each songwriter’s works together as if each album is a compilation of 4 separate bands, but this discounts how well the albums actually work as albums. Just as “Never Hear the End of It” goes for long stretches patching the songs together and linking them in ingenious ways, so does “The Double Cross”. In addition Sloan utilizes more inter-band participation. Other band members sharing verses, singing background, etc. Such as Chris singing on the bridge of Andrew’s “She’s Slowing Down Again” which introduces a new texture to the rambling rock and roll sound of the track. Chris also appears on the Jay penned “Beverley Terrace”.
The album has a general warmth to it, with very present bass frequencies. It sounds lush and full even on MP3. It sounds like it was mastered for vinyl; it’s not thin sounding at all, or overproduced and compressed to all hell. Standout track “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” features a delicately plucked acoustic steel string guitar with a perfectly placed ascending Rhodes line. It’s that sort of AM radio quality song that seems to be their niche lately, and they make it work really well.This is also the case for “Your Daddy Will Do”, which has the added bonus of featuring some doubled vocals by Patrick on the verses.
“It’s Plain to See” brings some upbeat, rockabilly flavor (flavour if you’re Canadian), to the album. The ultra-close, multi-tracked vocals are super clean and precise but I think that if the entire group were singing them that the variety of vocal timbre would have helped to thicken things up a bit. The track “Unkind” features some Thin Lizzy guitar work and slapback retro-echo on the vocals that is quite effective.
The Double Cross serves as a great celebration of 20 years of music by a band that deserves more attention. They really should be playing in large venues around the world as there are so few groups that are able to do what they do as well as they do it. If you’ve never heard Sloan, or haven’t figured out where to begin listening, this album would serve as a good introduction to the group.
Pre-order it here: http://store.yeproc.com/album.php?id=15511
You can listen to every song they have ever committed to disc at their site: http://www.sloanmusic.com/music
And be sure to check out their youtube channel where they have included little interviews about each song on the album: http://www.youtube.com/user/sloanmusic
(I haven’t included any tracks from this album as I’m fairly certain that the band would not be happy with that. I have, however, already pre-ordered the vinyl and would like to highly encourage you to do the same here. You can also preview every track from the album at that link as well, so what are you waiting for? Go!)