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A Northern Chorus - The Millions Too Many

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Artist: A Northern Chorus

Album: The Millions Too Many

Label: Sonic Unyon

Review date: Apr. 12, 2007

On The Millions Too Many, Ontario's A Northern Chorus offer up a compact version of their spacey, dreamily literate chamber pop. Where the lush expanses and slow-burn orchestral buildups of 2005's Bitter Hands Resign placed them easily (if facilely) among confirmed post-rock acts like Sigur Rós and most of Montréal's Constellation Records roster, the form on this record is noticeably condensed – in a way, humbled. The songs are decidedly songs, not pieces or suites, which lends them an immediacy in short supply on their past albums. The band's investment in tension and transition feels more sincere here than tactical.

Much remains the same about the group, from the wistful undertones of the arrangements to the urban transcendentalism of the lyrics, that strangely Canadian empiricism fetish (”Awakened by the timelessness of it all/ And how the night just succumbs to universal laws,” Stuart Livingstone croons in mid-album standout "The Canadian Shield"). But it's not strictly a matter of form: the mood of The Millions Too Many is refined along with the song structures. The spaces are tighter, and necessarily more intimate. The strings are warm, the vocals sweet and homespun. "Horse To Stable" is airy, perhaps, but not in the astral sense of Bitter Hands Resign, more like a campfire chant. Sometimes it courts mid-’90s cheesiness, sometimes you expect a mandolin break (as on warmed-over R.E.M. jam "Remembrance Day"), but more often it's lithe, suitably epic, and wholly compelling.

A Northern Chorus are still a band whose greatest payoffs come in concise, hard-earned climaxes — here, the end of "No Stations" or the debonair horn break of "Ethic of the Pioneer" — but they've taken pains to make the intervals between those moments more engaging, less drawn out, further from the brink of tedium. No doubt the respectably frosty epics in their pedigree afford them a certain credibility vis-à-vis the magnified sentimentalism of The Millions Too Many, but these songs speak sufficiently for themselves. Rather than distant and skyward, they find the band starry-eyed and earthbound, and that's really not a bad thing at all.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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