A more satisfying, fully-formed set of songs than any they’ve released thus far.
After nearly a decade out of the limelight, Montreal-based indie act Land of Talk return with no signs of ring rust. Life After Youth is a more satisfying, fully-formed set of songs than any they’ve released thus far.
On the one hand, it sounds like the band never left. Their songwriting is still sharp and the tunes chug along with that peculiar and specifically Canadian bent we’ve come to expect since the indie explosion of the early ‘00s. But it also seems that the time away, during which Elizabeth Powell stepped away from music entirely, has worked wonders. She sounds more urgent, clear like crystal, and confident in a way no early Land of Talk material did. She’s not just higher in the mix, no longer drowned out by reverb, but her vocal performances feel purer and more vivid.
Contrast a song like “Speak to Me Bones” from their debut Applause Cheer Boo Hiss – arguably one of their finest singles – with album opener “Yes You Were.” On the former, there’s a ramshackle intensity to the instrumentation that’s vibrant but it unintentionally cloaks Powell’s palpable charisma, drenching her voice behind the sound. Now, the music is much tauter; it’s still able to crank and blast, but she’s right out front. Before you could feel the impression of her words, as if listening from the next room over. Now, she’s right there with you and it couldn’t be better.
The album is only 10 songs, but each track runs the gamut of textures and emotions. “Loving” has a steady groove and a casual kind of grace about it, stuttering along with Powell’s comforting voice. “World Made” feels lively and wistful in equal measure. “What Was I Thinking?” rustles with a restrained stomp, coming off like a road movie soundtrack, at once winsome and rambling. For an act that hasn’t had a proper release since 2010, there’s an assuredness to the songwriting and production that feels like they’ve been at this forever.
“Inner Lover,” perhaps the album’s most impressive cut, is a bit of a sonic departure. It’s soothing but eerie with a spooky, theremin-like drone alongside a slow drum beat. Powell’s vocals are buttery smooth, filling out all the vacant space once comfortably occupied by guitar noise. The song’s hypnotic, mantra-like hook takes on rapturous new meaning with every new utterance, feeling new and different upon every listen.
Powell’s lyrics are still vaguely poetic in a way that lets your heart and mind fill in the blanks, but she sounds less purposefully opaque. Her delivery is richer. For a band that’s always had layers and layers of static oozing from its pores, being a little stripped down without devolving to MTV Unplugged status is a good look. This streamlined approach has breathed new life into a band that never seemed like longevity would be their thing. Perhaps this is the start of a new, long chapter of innovation and prosperity. If not, it’s a pleasing coda to a sound that’s long since moved from the zeitgeist, a pleasant reminder of times gone by.