Articles tagged with Joel Plaskett

Loose lips sink ships

Serf and the castle
Joel Plaskett certainly has a knack for putting out a lot of songs all at the same time. In 2009, he released Three, a triple-disc album with 27 tracks. This year, it’s the 20-song B-sides collection EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations.

Here’s the acoustic ballad “When I Go,” which finds Plaskett in stripped-down, folksy form. It features little more than his voice and guitar, plus a few distant harmonies. It’s truly lovely.

Go to Exclaim! to read my piece about the album. Thanks to The Broken Speaker for the stream.

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Two Hours Traffic covers familiar Territory

Two Hours Traffic - Territory
In terms of songwriting, Two Hours Traffic‘s new album, Territory, sounds nearly identical to its previous album, 2007′s Little Jabs. Its mix of punchy pop rockers and sugary ballads is so similar, in fact, that many of the tracks on the new album correspond directly with songs from the predecessor: “Noisemaker” is the scorching, electrified opener—a role previously fulfilled by “Nighthawks”; “Territory” is a Strokes-indebted single that evokes “Stuck for the Summer”; the breezy acoustic strummer “Lost Boys” clearly resembles “Sure Can Start.” Not only do these tunes sound similar to tracks from Little Jabs, they even appear in the same order on the album (tracks 1, 3 and 9, respectively).

mp3: “Territory”

Where Territory differs most from Two Hours Traffic’s previous material is in terms of production. Halifax legend Joel Plaskett is once again at the helm, but this time around he draws out an atmospheric element previously unheard in the group’s work. This is especially noticeable in the ballads: “Wicked Side” is a sparse, guitar-free groove driven by a distorted electric piano; “Weightless One” is haunting piano pop with lush baroque guitar flourishes. Still, despite the new-fangled arrangements, these songs don’t sound markedly different from the band’s previous releases—if given a folk-pop makeover, either track could have sounded similar to “Heroes of the Sidewalk.”

Territory‘s best moments are the rare instances when the band moves into new terrain. The two final tracks of the collection are its two biggest departures, and they’re the clear standouts. With its disaffected vocals and fuzzed-out guitars, “Happiness Burns” sounds like a long-lost college rock classic from the ’80s. Closer “Sing a Little Hymn,” meanwhile, features a subtle electro beat and deeply resonating piano chords. Its lyrics achieve a delicate balance between humour and sweetness, pairing its “I don’t know what I’d do without love” refrain with the anti-religion gag “Think Darwin is the tops / I like triceratops.” These songs suggest that the Charlottetown group may have a bigger range than it has previously revealed.

Territory is out now via Bumstead.
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Joel Plaskett & the Emergency @ Surrey Fusion Festival, 7/18/09

It was probably bad planning on the part of the Surrey Fusion Festival to hold the event on the same weekend as the Vancouver Folk Festival. Then again, maybe not, since the festival was packed regardless. (The fact that it was free probably didn’t hurt.) The focus of the event was cultural diversity as opposed to high-profile acts, but that didn’t stop the organizers from scoring Halifax singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett as the headliner.

Plaskett, along with his backing band the Emergency, played a variety of cuts from his 15-year back catalogue, drawing most heavily on Three, his triple disc opus released earlier this year. While the album featured ornate arrangements including horns, fiddles, and plenty of backup vocalists, the Emergency performed as a four piece, meaning that the tunes were stripped down to their basic parts. “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’” was reinvented as an intimate acoustic duet with guitarist/keyboardist Peter Elkas. On the other end of the spectrum, “Extraordinary” featured noisy hard rock accompaniment for Plaskett’s bluesy guitar workouts.

But even better than the musicianship was Plaskett himself, as he charmed the crowd with witty banter and his magnetic stage presence. Many of the highlights of the show were non-musical—watching the band perform “Through & Through & Through,” for example, when Plaskett cracked up as he Elkas affected squeaky falsettos and attempted to recreate the female-sung harmonies of the studio version. During “Work Out Fine,” Plaskett’s spoken intro morphed into a surprisingly convincing rap about his cat White Fang; this effortlessly segued into the song’s hopeful, glass-half-full message.

The show finished with a goofy, synth-heavy take on the 2007 single “Fashionable People.” Plaskett sung the song from behind the kit, joking that his bandmates sounded like computers during the song’s robotic refrain. He wrapped up the song with a thundering drum solo, emphasizing what was already clear: as well as a virtuosic musician, Plaskett is, hands down, the coolest person in Canadian indie rock. Even if you don’t like his albums, be sure to check out his live show and witness one of the most charismatic performers around.

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Good things come in threes

I normally prefer albums that are short and sweet, but in the case of Joel Plaskett‘s Three, I can’t help but admire its sheer scale. It’s a triple album, with each disc comprised of nine songs, making for close to two hours of music. Song titles include “Pine, Pine, Pine,” “Heartless, Heartless, Heartless,” and “On & On & On.” “Good things come in threes,” Plaskett sings on “Through & Through & Through”—no kidding. His fixation on the number three is the kind of obsessive compulsion usually reserved for the genius or the insane. Thankfully, Plaskett is closer to the former.

The most remarkable thing about Three is that of the 27 tracks, none of them suck. (Okay, the comically deep vocals on “Drifter’s Raus” aren’t great, but the song itself holds up.) The album doesn’t have much in the way of curveballs, but what Plaskett lacks in adventurousness, he makes up for in consistency. The majority of the songs on Three vary between rootsy, countrified folk and electro-tinged rockabilly, full of call-and-response harmonies and bluegrass accompaniment (including pedal steel, fiddles, and the occasional banjo). Only “Rewind, Rewind, Rewind” offers much in the way of a stylistic counterpoint, with a tick-tocking beat and retro girl group vocals.

With double and triple albums, people are wont to speculate what songs would have made the cut had the album been cut down to a single disc. But here, that debate is irrelevant, since every song makes the album stronger by its inclusion. It’s an insular album, full of self-refences and recurring themes. As well as repeated musical ideas, the same lyrics keep popping up in multiple songs: “rewind,” “beyond,” and (of course) “three.” There isn’t much of a stylistic distance between any of the three discs—the second is little mellower, perhaps. For the most part, the songs could have been placed in almost any order and the effect would have been the same; this makes Three the kind of album you can get lost in, allowing the songs to wash over you without the need for a linear structure. This is also handy because it means you don’t have to listen to the entire thing in one go to get the full effect. (Because how often can you really devote two hours to listening to one album?)

There is a slight tendency on Three for the songs to blend into one another—no wonder, since 27 songs is a lot to digest at once. But standouts begin to emerge on repeated listens. The best of the bunch is buried way back in the third disc, the stomping hoedown “Deny, Deny, Deny.” With gorgeous female harmonies and a chorus melody that could have been borrowed from a nursery rhyme, it sounds a rootsy take on 60s AM pop.

Three is out now via MapleMusic.
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