A few days ago, I finished reading Douglas Coupland's seminal All Families are Psychotic. Built upon a capricious, endearing narrator explaining a family battling with a definitive sense of zeitgeist, Coupland's tale is all over the place. The plot switches immediately without warning, and rising action is abated in lieu of throwing everything in at once, creating a slightly confusing, yet thematically brilliant read. I could not put it down, undeniably entwined in Coupland's managing of ideals, control, and chaos.

This novel approach, no pun intended, when co-opted into songwriting is what makes contemporary ‘Indie’ rock so contagiously enticing. While the buzzword has been spuriously passed around more times than Paris Hilton’s sex tape, the music contained underneath borrows significantly from Coupland’s methodology. Essentially, how and when the ingredients are combined is just as important as the amount of each needed in the recipe.

The Most Serene Republic is another playmate in the daycare of recent mainstream Indie-rock darlings, and their debut LP Underwater Cinematographer exemplifies the Coupland-esque thematic capriciousness about which Indie-rock is so concerned. The first band under the venerable blanket of Arts & Crafts that has nothing to do with Broken Social Scene, the six-piece Milton, Ontario (near Toronto) act experiments with every stylistic trick known to Indie rockers. Yet, instead of faltering under the weight of their influences, they manage to cohesively build an emotive, bubbly feast that will surely fatten up the bellies of a public indelibly hungry for smart, mature Indie.

Jumbled folk, bastardized classical, hypnotic trance, hand-claps, congressional sing-a-longs, and a predilection for lengthy, over-zealous track names all command attention on Underwater Cinematographer. The same can be said for the aquatic ambience, synthesized soul, and sparse, emotive lyrical banter. The songs are deliberately grandiose, leaping from one pad to another while catching and rearranging everything in between. “In Places, Empty Spaces” tenaciously moves from Album Leaf tinged ethereal chill-out to guitar-driven, Dredg-like alternative without succumbing to the ravages of musical hyperactivity, while “Oh God” fixes the cracks in label mates Broken Social Scene with swirling dual guitars, dominant French horn interplay (or what sounds like it), and clever vocal harmonies. Pianos, distortion, accordions, disjointed percussive melodies, and intentionally out-of-tune choruses also veer in and out of the hodgepodge, often only stopping for a second to make their presence known, then immediately giving way to the next idea waiting in the musical cannon. It's baffling, thought-provoking music.

Ultimately, the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach, laboriously dusted with thematic twists and turns, enhances the listen, showcasing a band that emanates the true inventive essence of Indie. It is unknown whether Coupland’s work directly influenced the sextet, but his delicate meandering and rearranging of ideas mirror the beauty entranced within The Most Serene Republic. Often control only works in chaotic situations.

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | Canada
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[Published on: 8/17/05]

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