Review Summary: An overlooked & under-appreciated band boldly push their sonic boundaries.
One has to wonder why bands – and/or their record labels – bother releasing LPs during the months of December and January, since promoting such albums successfully is nigh on impossible. Disposable income is down due to Christmas spending, compilation releases are hogging the charts, and year-end lists have either already been compiled or are eleven months away. Sure, the likes of Beyonce can do it – but she doesn’t even have to announce upcoming music for it to sell millions. Such a release date is even more confounding from musicians who can be considered overlooked and under-appreciated; making it puzzling as to why English rockers Canterbury chose the second week of January to release their fan-funded third LP ‘Dark Days’. It’s a real shame that the quartet will most likely continue to avoid just recognition, too, since ‘Dark Days’ is a cracker of an album!
Right from the get-go, there is a genuine sense of a band boldly pushing their sonic boundaries in order to distinguish themselves from a crowded scene. The opening minute or so of opener ‘Expensive Imitation’ sums up the LP in a sense; beginning with an atmospheric instrumental introduction, before a hooky riff and insistent drum-beat enters the fray. Later, its bridge is ominously foreboding, yet gang vocals and strings add an involving feel-good element. It’s an athemic tune, without being obvious in its motives; as gloomy introspection juxtaposes with uplifting catchiness to make for a mission statement of sorts. This is best heard further on the intriguing mid-album trio which includes the keys-driven stomp cum barnstorming rocker ‘Hold Your Own’, the expert dynamics of ‘Think It Over’, and the acoustic guitar and organ ballad which climaxes with a flurry of horns that is ‘By The Trail’.
With Canterbury predominantly taking the softer and more melodic route to differentiate themselves, cynics may feel that tracks such as ‘All My Life’, ‘Keep It Moving’, 'Run From a Gun' and 'Out From the Cold' cross the line into easy-listening radio fodder. This is where the much-improved dual vocal dynamic of Luke Prebble and Mike Sparks comes in to save the day. Their pitch-perfect harmonization lends tunes - no matter what the pace or volume - an impressive fluidity, which recalls the vocals of Birds of Tokyo and Karnivool front-man Ian Kenny. The musicianship also plays its role though, with the quartet maturing to the point that they know how to fuse each other's skills and strengths to suit each individual tune, while also forming a cohesive whole. What the album may lack in technical innovation, it satisfyingly augments with the aforementioned array of additional instrumention.
'Dark Days' is by no means perfect, yet many of it's weaknesses are inherent from catch-22 strengths... For what could be classified as a mainstream-leaning release, the album lacks a standout single. Anthemic glam-rocker 'Elephant' and the subtly infectious 'All My Life' may come closest, yet either tune could become cringe-worthy had Canterbury aimed for the top of the charts. Additionally, the track-ordering results in the LP's diversity through eight tracks being borderline astonishing, yet leaves the closing triumvirate feeling just a little redundant. The strings-infused closer 'Going Nowhere' is actually ironically titled, since it's a little too predictable and underwhelming. One thing it does do, however, is set the scene for Canterbury's future, with the refrain "We're Going Somewhere" echoing in the listener's ears as 'Dark Days' comes to a close. Let's hope that "somewhere" is a prosperous future with many more excellent releases.
Recommended Tracks: Expensive Imitation, Hold Your Own, Think It Over & By The Trail.