Reviews

Cloak and Cipher

Author: Zach Kelly
08/20/2010 | Pitchfork.com | www.pitchfork.com | Album Review
After spending an entire North American tour supporting Broken Social Scene after the release of debut Some Are Lakes, you'd think that Land of Talk would be be eager to dial back the Canadian Indie Power Pop Bombast a little. Indeed, after the group translated some of the raw energy of its breakout EP Applause Cheer Boo Hiss into the more graceful, delicately arranged pieces found on Lakes, it seemed as if Land of Talk were destined to slip into the recesses of comfortable, regal indie rock. But with their follow-up Cloak and Cipher-- a fevered, grandiose record that's both denser and more technically proficient than its predecessor-- the Montreal trio take every opportunity to make their former tourmates proud with this batch of swoon-worthy, anthemic songs.

If there's one thing the band does right on Cloak and Cipher, it's nail these big, star-bursted choruses. Powell, who acts as both the voice and chief songwriter of Land of Talk, has clearly allowed some of her time working with BSS to rub off on the material found here. While it might be a little dangerous to nick ideas from your new employer, the songs on Cloak and Cipher that sound the most like BSS tunes are the best ones here. Riff-slathered single "Swift Coin" sounds a lot like "7/4 (Shoreline)", while standout "Quarry Hymns" marries some familiar balladry with salted air and sunset-warmed guitars lifted from some late-70s FM station. It's a high-water mark, and one that best captures the band's intent to never allow the emotive moments to get the best of the blustery ones, and vice versa.

Throughout, Powell remains a transfixing voice, and Land of Talk gives her the space she needs to try a variety of approaches. On an otherwise sad but endearing sounding little ballad, "Color Me Badd" (yep, like the "I Wanna Sex You Up" guys) finds Powell's softly spun vocal boiling-over with a controlled kind of lovesick frustration that locates a complex hurt. But most of the time, she doesn't need to rely on anything as dramatic, channelling a humbler, late-era Stevie Nicks on "Playita" or doing a less-precious Feist on "Hamburg, Noon".

Cloak and Cipher wisely enlists and array of heavy-hitters, with guests from Arcade Fire and Stars pitching in where needed. While these helping hands provide added oomph, their reputations for drawn-out tracks and LPs has also seemingly rubbed off on Land of Talk. Those great choruses? Still great, but not when songs are dragged out this long and the payoff arrives right on schedule, about four times a song. It's indulgent, but it's hard to make songs sound this big. Fortunately, it won't be enough to wring-out the magic found in a great many of these songs, and surely won't be able to stall Land of Talk who, with Cloak and Cipher, are progressing quite nicely.


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Cloak and Cipher

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