Branches by Antlerand (Review)

Antlerand’s unconventionality stems from their blending of electronic music with more straightforward indie-rock structures.
Branches - Antlerand

I’m going to come right and say it, and the loss of indie cred be damned. After giving it a number of listens, the new Broken Social Scene is doing absolutely nothing for me. For obvious reasons, I was pretty expectant. Then again, how could you not be after listening to You Forgot It In People? Unfortunately, the new self-titled album just strikes me as far too long, ambling, and meandering, full of loud songs that thrash about and go absolutely nowhere.

There’s none of the wit and effortless charm and whimsy that made You Forgot It In People so enjoyable when I first heard it. To be quite honest, I find myself completely forgetting it’s even playing by the halfway mark. By the time I usually regain interest, it’s just in time for the laborious “It’s All Gonna Break.”

But in a curious way, the latest from Antlerand (previously known as Invisible) is fitting that Broken Social Scene-sized hole quite nicely. I say “curious” because there appears to be very little similarity between the two bands. However, both groups share a certain unconventionality that manages to cross the obvious differences.

For Antlerand, that unconventionality stems from their blending of electronic music with more straightforward indie-rock structures. It’s nothing new, but it’s done incredibly well here. These are, first and foremost, solid songs. Nothing flashy, but solidly composed, usually built around Kelly’s infectious, insistent drumming. On top of that rhythm, the band layers all manner of instrumentation: squiggly free jazz trumpeting, e-bowed guitars, pianos, banjos, etc. And dropping in for a chat from time to time are Chris Larson’s dry, half-sung/half-spoken vocals.

That layering allows Antlerand, like Broken Social Scene at their best, to take their songs in intriguing directions. “Rows of Unbending Lights” opens with slowly engrossing electronic flutterings, which slowly fade away to reveal guitars and drums that are preparing to break through the sky. “Maybe We’re Still Running” is a pastoral kraut-rock jam. “We Know Better” drifts along on dreamlike organs before segueing into the beautiful rainy day pianos that open up “Not The Next Anything,” which then move to off-kilter drumming and angular guitars, then to a searing violin and male/female vocals before shifting back into a gorgeous rainy day piano denouement.

“On Their Screen” moves along at a rustic pace, with banjo pickings that pick up speed like a locomotive before somehow exploding into a gorgeous trumpet finale. “I Love You Like Forgetting” is a breathy instrumental piece a la Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan album.

And on it goes. So in the end, no, Antlerand don’t really sound anything like Broken Social Scene, not by a long shot. But even so, there’s something, perhaps a looseness and unassuming freshness to their music, that I find myself wishing Broken Social Scene hadn’t lost in all of the big rock sounds of their latest CD.

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