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The Most Serene Republic - Underwater Cinematographer

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Artist: The Most Serene Republic

Album: Underwater Cinematographer

Label: Arts & Crafts

Review date: Aug. 16, 2005

The Most Serene Republic, a six-piece band from Milton, Ontario, just released their debut album on Arts & Crafts, a label that, thanks to the success of Broken Social Scene and Stars, has become the clearinghouse for up-and-coming Canadian bands. Whether or not you can sensibly call them products of a Canadian scene, MSR’s Underwater Cinematographer does resemble some of the recent releases on the label. Like Stars, the Arcade Fire, and now Wolf Parade, they have a precious and evidently entirely sincere lyrical outlook. Like Broken Social Scene, they enjoy their studio effects, the more prominent the better. The difference between the aforementioned bands and the Most Serene Republic is one of degree: this band pushes the cutesy vocals and frenzied compositions until the ideas sound exhausted.

Adrian Jewett’s lyrics make their intentions clear from the start: “my world is sunny, compressed into the pocket of your sundress / we pass over cities and towns, collapsed, in the hopes that people find amusement amongst the depressed” are the first words on the album, from “Content Was Always My Favorite Colour.” Fair enough: happiness and exuberance are the order of the day. It’s hard to know if the sentiments get any deeper than this, as they’re sung in a high register and are often buried in the mix, but snippets here and there seem to be along the same lines. “Let’s relearn every vowel and word, and make it better than before,” the entire band sings on “Where Cedar Nouns and Adverbs Walk.” “Proposition 61” breaks with form by recounting a not-particularly-enjoyable party and date, but when the band asks, on “Relative’s Eyes,” “how does the brain compare with the heart” the answer is already implied, and it is not a favorable comparison for the brain.

Now, we’re certainly all pro-happiness and exuberance, but the same doggedly optimistic message reiterated during several songs begins to sound more than a little shallow, even if such statements have a way of lending themselves more grandeur than they deserve. The music often has a way of underlining that self-aggrandizement. There’s no good way to describe songs like “(Oh) God” and “The Protagonist Suddenly Realizes What He Must Do In the Middle of Downtown Traffic” except to say that they sound frenzied and dramatic. Wholly different melodies are juxtaposed against one another, and the band gives up on structure about halfway through each song, falling back on extended instrumental and vocal breaks. I gather that the idea is simply to plow through each song with enough conviction to keep the listener engaged. When that approach works – like on Underwater Cinematographer’s best song, “You’re a Loose Cannon MacArthur…But You Get the Job Done,” a piano and electric guitar duel – it’s because the band strikes upon a particularly appealing melody.

That kind of unfocused style is necessarily hit-and-miss, however. Ultimately, it’s just too much. Too much forced exuberance, too much melodic enjambment, too much time willfully spent on the brink of musical collapse.

By Tom Zimpleman

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