QUAKER PARENTS - Huge Mask // Album Review

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photo by ch @ C.R. - feb'10

Right off the bat huge kick drums pounds you in the chest, but the vocals quickly establish themselves as the focal point, and are what give this album it's distinctive sound. Featuring the twin-brother duo of Mark and Scott Grundy (of Gamma Gamma Rays fame), and Brad Lahead (Long, Long, Long), it's no surprise to hear lots of thin single note guitar riffs, in-and-out vocal harmonies, and ganky bass. In the tradition of recent Halifax vocal pop bands, the songs are short and filled with catchy riffs, though there's more repetition and less drastic shifts than on the Long Long Long album to which inevitable comparisons will be drawn.

It almost goes without saying but I think these guys will be a key part of the new Halifax vocal movement, as the melodies and harmonies are as important, if not more-so, than the instrumentation. None the less the band is not content with standard rock band instrument sounds. Drums sound almost electronic, like a DJ overloading a slightly too small sub woofer. I like the Beatles style mix with lots of instruments panned left and right that you wouldn't expect – bass, drums, vocals. Panning seems to change between songs, but it's not disconcerting, as each song seems to hold at least one unique sound.

"Skyland" starts with a great, airy vocal that is quickly doubled from all directions and a pulsing dirty bass/guitar line that morphs into running bass and drums that sound less like a drum kit and more like a percussion ensemble. "Evil Deeds" again finds a great wall of guitar sounds coming from all sides – acoustic strums, electric plinks, and swooping evil bass lines. There's a very Modest Mouse-esq acoustic guitar build at the half-way mark, but these guys aren't afraid to venture into weirdo territory and slide up a few dissonant half-steps just to keep you on your toes.

"Layer Me Down" gives a nice contrast between twangy psychedelic riffs and straight ominous choruses. The drums sound huge, but the overall sound is still clean and there's enough space between the instruments – guitars are drastically high-passed to the point of being dangerously thin. Some of the bass/kick drum hits distort but it's part of the charm of the record – it's nice to hear a record with some dynamic range instead of the usual over compressed, digital age squash fests.

"I Know No One" is ultra catchy and ultra short – again, the only complaint one could make is that some of the songs are too short, and this is one of them. It's so catchy that you just want to play the song over and over – but wouldn't it be nice if the band had done it for you? There's a very strong backlash against the Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus structure that has held fast in popular music for the last 50 years – sometimes it's hard to know if this is high art style, or if the band just ran out of riffs – either way you have to give them credit: ideas are given the space they need, and nothing more – there are no 3rd verses, extended choruses, or endless guitar solos here.

I can't stop listening to “Got to Go,” which features more scrappy Beatles style basslines and off-kilter guitar stabs to contrast. Sometimes it's startling to realize there are only 3 members in the band, and it would be interesting to see how they pull all these songs off live. This track features some of my favorite vocals on the album - “Now you're acting like you're made of iron” Grundy shouts in the spaces between loud, thick shot notes. (The band's bandcamp lists 'thick' as a tag for the album, and it's not inappropriate at all). The sound is, as mentioned, full and yet spacious, an almost impossible description that runs well with the bands equally scattered yet focused songwriting. "Ghetto/I'm fine" personifies this scatter with ragged drum skiffles and syncopated Hawaiian beach riffs book-ended with frantic hi-hats and run on vocals. (Speaking of Beatles, check out the Hofner bass in the video for this song on bandcamp)

"The Sun" starts off the beginning of the end of the album with a psychedelic swagger and nice percussion but as the longest song on the album, it's oddly forgettable and it's more stripped down punk power chords feel a little overbearing after the single note lines that preceded it. "Shallow" takes another straight down the middle rock sound that builds up towards a cliff, but stops right on the edge, and you can almost see the Roadrunner dust and hear the little pebbles tumble over the side – after the preceding songs you weren't really expecting a big over-processed chorus, but you might have thought about it for just a second.

Overall this album is a great, catchy, fun summer jam, and it's likely to be in repeat rotation on my iPod for a while yet (most importantly, it's free, so go download it right now!). As I said earlier, these guys are part of what I hear as a new wave of vocal Halifax music, and I think it's going to have as much impact on the Halifax scene in 10 years as scrappy DC-inspired math rock bands like North of America, Contrived, and The Plan did 10 years ago.

The music is youthful yet mature, thanks to the emphasis placed on vocal skills, but at time's it's also one-dimensional – there are no hidden sounds to be revealed upon repeat listens – everything is up front and crucial, or else it simply isn't present in the mix, period. If you love great music that just clicks, you need to download this album now. Don't let it's svelte 15:40 running time or it's status as a free download dissuade you, this is a fantastic album and I have very high hopes for the future of this band - assuming they don't break up after one release, as Halifax bands are prone to do.


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