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Soft Canyon - Broken Spirit, I Will Mend Your Wings

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Artist: Soft Canyon

Album: Broken Spirit, I Will Mend Your Wings

Label: Alien8

Review date: Feb. 4, 2004

Montreal’s Soft Canyon play the version of psychedelic rock that you hear ad nauseam on your local classic rock station. While other bands experiment with non-Western instrumentation, or structure songs around non-Western scales or motifs, Soft Canyon unashamedly recreate Dark Side of the Moon/Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd as the frontispiece to their 21st-century manual of classic rock covers, leading us on a journey through the haze of the mid-70s with all the recognizable elements in play: quiet atmospheric verses, spare lead guitar licks, bright fuzz choruses, all dissolving into plodding jams and slow, colorful climaxes. The band formerly existing as Tricky Woo have studied other classic rock acts with guitar in hand, and have copped bits here and there to flesh out this new batch of songs under the Soft Canyon name. Some scoot along with sunny organ pop that recalls Jimi Hendrix and even the Monkees. Heavy proto-metal AC/DC riffs pop up in places, as do the smooth chorus "aahs" of the Allman Brothers. Often, they seem to transgress doting homage into exact duplication; check the last three minutes of "Kaleidoscope Mountain" for a slow, heavy jam that uses a descending scale of parallel bass, keyboard and guitar directly out of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" (even the signature Gilmour guitar solo at the third repetition is there!). With another nearly identical jam at the close of the album, "We Threw Our Love into the Universe," you might be wondering if the boys in Soft Canyon are fooling with us, or are just thirty years behind the times. They are no doubt sincere in their re-creation despite all the cloying obviousness of their sound, somehow not realizing that this style of rock is as easily irritating as classic.

One thing Soft Canyon lacks in detriment to their obvious musical talent is the confidence from a frontman like a Hendrix or a Terry Kath. Singer Andrew Dickson’s voice is shaky in places, as if he can’t quite muster resource to hit all the notes, or dig deep enough to reach the inflection that make the lyrical cliches of classic rock seem potent. "I run and I run / With my back to the sun" and "Send me your love" just don’t sound the same when done with a cheerless gusto.

Furthermore, the content of Broken Spirit doesn’t give Soft Canyon a chance to display more than this one side of their sound, since out of eleven tracks, four are just filler, two incidental tracks with a three-minute amorphous instrumental titled "Rare Bird Indeed" that can’t quite make the translation into an entirely abstract form, and then a minute-long acoustic reverb ballad-style instrumental ("The Illumination of You") that quits before it has the chance to succeed. Hints that arise in "Rare Bird" might add to a greater level of unpredictability to complement a predictable sound if they were explored more fully, rather than dropped half-heartedly in between "real" songs.

Soft Canyon promises to fit into the catalogue of psychedelic ragamuffins that Alien 8 has solidly been collecting for the last few years. The problem is, their respects are paid at the level of mere subservience, and the reinvention of a mainstream sound is not realized as more than a novelty. Acid Mothers Temple accretes the layered chaos of intense improvisation; Sam Shalabi gently creates a freeform, minimalist take on psychedelic atmospheres; the Unicorns’ debut album, though somewhat bland, charms through sheer accessibility. And this is the way that Soft Canyon will gain loyalty; from those who aren’t critical of duplication, but can find some place for a band who wants to try their hand at pop music that hasn’t been made for thirty years. Just once now, we’re finally granted the impossible wish for new oldies.

By Joel Calahan

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