05 June 2011

Truck: "Passengers"

My thanks to Scott Taylor for keeping me in the loop.

The best kind of reviews, the ones I enjoy the most, are the ones that are truly blind, in the sense of my knowing little to nothing about my subject. Truck, Canadian metal band, is a completely new world to me. Though a friend of mine made a joke that this blog would eventually become the voice of Canadian metal and French electropop, the reality is that I have gotten more and more press kits and music sent to me at the blog (and they are all welcomed, which we always disclose by the red text line of thanks). Usually the process is opening up the file and listening to the music (perhaps sharing it with Mirage, Painted Bird, and any other current collaborator), and the final decision made if it is going to be reviewed (and by who). One listen to “Passengers” (31 October 2010), I was hooked. All I knew ahead of my listen was that Truck was an instrumental metal band, but this album would feature vocalists on each track … I was intrigued immediately.

Truck is composed of Casey Rogers (bass), Bryan Thomas Sandau (drums), and Scott Taylor (guitar); as an instrumental band, their approach to music is distinct from bands with vocalists. They are free from the fetters that dictate verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus format (or any variation of); furthermore, they do not have to think about how the music is different from when a voice is present or not. This adds challenge to writing music that will have a vocalist. What I like most about “Passengers” is that having vocalists present in the songs has not deterred what makes great instrumental music: the ability to escape the restraints of conventionality. The album exists in two formats: a completely instrumental one and one with vocals, which is the one I will concentrate on; each vocalist also penned the lyrics to their respective songs.

Kicking off with “Ben Stiller,” featuring Sean Jenkins [of Divinity], the lyrics are a string of Ben Stiller movie quotes; musically, it is the harshness we expect from metal, but it is one of those metal tracks that really depict clearly just how closely metal and industrial really are related to one another. The change-up in the song, especially in the later half, are some of the most sophisticated I have heard in metal. “The Fit Shucker,” featuring Greg Musgrave [of Exit Strategy and Phantom Limb], which strips any feel of industrial for a more solid contemporary take on metal, is music with dramatic flair. This is metal hodgepotch; the song takes variant different strands of metal (from how the vocals are sung to the guitar and bass arrangements) and intertwine them in eclectically alluring way. Musgrave also performs vocal duties on “Easy Feat,” which has sexy Spanish-esque interludes in it, which completely took me by surprise. Easily my favorite track on the album, I have to say that though the guitar in the interludes really hooked me, it is the drumming on this song that astounds me. Most drummers do not astound me, but Sandau proves over and over on this album that the heart of any great band (in the sense of performing the music) is the drummer.

“Rosario” features none other than Steve Moore of The Unravelling and Post Death Soundtrack. Matching the versatility of Moore’s voice, this song shifts through many different soundscapes, some of which are not traditionally metal at all. This is where I give the band credit; it is about not being complacent and expanding the repertoire of what you compose and perform, and though Truck might cringe by what I am about to say, the lighter interludes really boarder on dream pop. Moore also does vocals for “Twenty Four Ways.” The two songs could not be more different to one another. Now we all love change-ups in music, but the change-ups here are so vast, that if listened to in isolation, you might really think it was two different songs, two different bands. But again, what else can you expect from an instrumental band? It is that ability to think unconventionally about music that is the crux of this track. Moore, the only vocalist on three tracks, closes out the album with Truck on “A Diddley.” I am becoming more and more interested in albums that do not end with the cliché big finish. Though far from an anticlimactic ending, musically this is the most “consistent” track in tempo from beginning to end. That thick wall of sound is ever present, but the slower paced interludes are not really that slow or soft, there is no true point of comparison, so sonically you are not overwhelmed – nifty trick. But it’s abrupt ending, which matches the opening’s abruptness, is a perfect close to the album.

Wes Deleeuw [of Brimstone Rise] joins in for the track: “Purge.” In many ways this is the most cinematic song on the album; from passivity to angry anxiousness, the music and vocals collude together for one, tightly unified, visceral effect. “Sad Elevens,” featuring Rod Medwid [of Surface Atlantis], is metal with a true pop sensibility, without selling out its conviction. What I really like about the song is how it uses old style hooks in a vibrantly new way. While “Purge” was the most cinematic, “Paulabdul (The Prey),” featuring Jerrod Maxwell-Lester [of Enditol], is by far the most ponderous song on the album. Maxwell-Lester also loans vocals on “Tobber Tuzzi (The Goon).” I grew up on a healthy overdose of songs like “Let’s Go to Bed” and “Peekaboo,” where vocalists have fun with how they sing. No, this track is not a playful pop number, but it is as playful as metal can get, and I really appreciate that. The music and vocal styles belie the intensity of the lyrics, and this is very savvy and not easy to pull off.

So I was asked while writing this, “Why would anyone care what you, a post-punk, shoegaze, and electropop obsessed writer, have to say about metal?” My response is simple: it is because I am obsessed with post-punk, shoegaze, and electropop that you should listen. The fact that a genre of music that has not spoken to me in years is really hitting a chord, making me turn my ears to listening to something totally distinct, is the clue that I think highly of it and it has merit on its own face value. Truck’s “Passengers” is an amazing album, which has gotten under the skin of this former “goth kid.” Plus in a world where most metal has become cookie-cutter, hollow mirages of music from yesteryear or soulless incarnations for corporate profit, bands like Truck are pointing towards a new direction that people should take note of. So for those lovers of metal, check this out; for those not disposed to listening to metal, take a plunge, check out Truck, follow up on the bands that all the vocalists come from (I have already … amazing stuff), and give Truck a good, fair listen … you may be surprised.

Track Listing:
1. Ben Stiller
2. The Fit Shucker
3. Rosario
4. Purge
5. Sad Elevens
6. Paulabudl (The Prey)
7. Twenty Four Ways
8. Tobber Touzzi (The Goon)
9. Easy Feat
10. A Diddley

Keep up with Truck at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Here is the link to CDBaby, where you can preview and purchase “Passengers” in a physical disc or digital format.

Here is Truck’s video for “The Prey,” which can be seen at director’s Doug Cook Vimeo Channel.

The Prey from Doug Cook on Vimeo.

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