Review Summary: The fire burned the arcade down, so we stayed up all night talking about everything and anything instead.
Having been out and about since before 2007, it's amazing to me, at least from the sound of Passing Strange
, that The Wednesday Club haven't garnered more attention for themselves. I'll just cut the fat right now and tell you that this is a fantastic indie rock release; a project that simplifies (but still embraces) the stylistic flair of The Arcade Fire and meets upbeat melodies and off-beat lyrical themes with shoegaze-influenced rhythms. A necessarily British affair, Passing Strange
is an album wherein there isn't merely a fire at the arcade; rather, it's burned down and the musicians (its primary patrons) have been left with only their other oddball hobbies (discussing Ana Lucia, Buzz Aldrin, writing music, and basking in self-deprecation) to help them pass time in its wake.
As you can imagine, this goes over in indie rock about as well as a smart, well-directed indie comedy goes over in the box offices: people view it as pretentious instead of genuine, heartfelt, and cerebral - what Passing Strange
really is. Maybe the dark, spacious tones of the album could be alienating to some, but there's really nothing here that's gloomier than The Cure or the darker portions of Funeral
. The rhythms of Passing Strange
err on the somber side of life, but their undercurrent is still that of extraordinarily well-executed, head-bobbing pop. The leads certainly aren't your standard sparkler-waving pop regalia, either, but the driving guitar of "Buckingham Gum," the heralding harmonica of "Hit by Teeth Pt. 3," and the sea-shanty kazoo of "Abraxas" all do their work alongside synthesizers and trumpets to make every leading line as memorable as the vocals that accompany them.
But no matter the quality, quantity, or caliber of the bells and whistles, the vocal performance on Passing Strange
takes the "birthday cake" as its most memorable feature. Conjuring one-off lines like "We suck so hard" ("We Suck") and "I'd seen water before" ("Antediluvianista") into fully-fledged singalong choruses and turning phrases around oddball subjects like Schrodinger's cat may be an afterthought on first listen, but when looking at the band's lyric sheet (a hilariously "academic" PDF file filled with "further reading," falsified degrees, and a claim that all songs contained within are "sonnets") it's quite impressive that the band have turned so few words into so much meaning. The short phrasing bearing long-term fruit shines at its highest when morphing "Ana Lucia in the rain" into a lamppost hipster love ballad of harmonized tenor croons and alto sighs, while other tracks like "Pure Holes" and "Hit By Teeth Pt. 3" preserve word economy but succeed at being only slightly less catchy with a considerably lower dosage of repetition. As far as the lyrics are concerned, being able to create such memorable and enjoyable tracks with an earnestly quirky aesthetic and a relatively concise expression is a testament to the silver tongues of the songwriters.
As far as the actual singing goes, The Wednesday Club gang are three male singers (John, Max, and Adam) who all have a relatively similar heavy tenor croon approach which varies from a lighter Eddie Vedder to a frantic chant-singing reminiscent of The Killers. At the many moments their vocals are accompanied by any one of their three female friends (Lisa, Amanda, and Fliss), the group sounds highly similar to the Arcade Fire - another reason for my frequent comparison between the two. A lot of this has to do with the superior use of the female vocals in harmonizing and backing the deeper, more prominent male vocals. Aside from being a technique used by their Canadian counterparts, this marriage of vocal stylings mirrors the broader sound of the album (darker at a base level with leads dancing around it) and works as an excellent compliment whenever present.
At this point, it might sound like The Wednesday Club romp around with a massive collection of musicians and try to jam sounds of every order and classification into every track a la Sufjan Stevens. Despite having another three musicians in tow on the album performing exclusive vocals on one track, trumpet wherever it appears, and guitars, respectively, that couldn't be further from the truth. Every track on Passing Strange
has just enough rhythm, lead, vocals, bells, and whistles to make it enjoyable, recognizable, and still a part of a greater whole. Nothing is overdone or underdone, and with a mix that emphasizes the lower end of this head-swisher but which still leaves enough air for the leads and vocals to breathe, it's easy to say that Passing Strange
hits the mark of indie pop/rock excellence in every category.