Plants and Animals

La La Land

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Label: Secret City Records

Secret City Records describes La La Land, Montreal-based Plants and Animal’s follow-up to their somewhat underappreciated debut, Parc Avenue, as “instantly familiar.” Whether or not familiarity is a trait worth boasting about is up for debate, but there’s no questioning the accuracy of that description. In fact, many of the tracks here – “The Mama Papa” and triumphant pop anthem “Undone Melody” in particular – would have fit nicely on Top 40 radio in the early 2000s, sandwiched comfortably between the Strokes and Coldplay without sounding out of place. Good news for fans whose tastes lean towards the well-established mainstream, I suppose, even if it leaves this reviewer running for the comforts of this year’s more adventurous albums.

La La Land takes, for lack of a better term, the “big” sound that defined Parc Avenue one step further, as the band adds an array of power chords and neatly placed keyboards, sax and catchy electric guitar licks to its already spacious panache. There’s no hint of clumsiness or grit, an approach that works especially well on “Future from the 80s,” the stripped-down “Game Shows” and the soulful, rhythmic “Kon Tiki.” Other songs, though, are polished and recognizable to the point of anonymity, rendering even the catchiest numbers as forgettable as they are enjoyable. Not that I expect every record to raze the walls of indie music, but I find myself playing a constant game of “What does this song remind me of?” every time I give La La Land a whirl. Hints of everything from a hodgepodge of 1970s stadium fillers to an after-the-fact, radio-friendly Arcade Fire are evident throughout, and though such similarities are far from unpalatable, I can’t help fighting the urge to rediscover the source material rather than embrace Plants and Animals’ latest offering.

With song titles like “Jeans Jeans Jeans,” “Tom Cruz” and “American Idol,” the content of La La Land is certainly contemporary, though it’s difficult to discern what mood the band is trying to convey. There’s not a lot of flow to the overall product, which plays out like a collection of singles and mini rock operas instead of a unified album. It’s anyone’s guess whether lines like “I want to be your American Idol/ Can’t you see me just hanging out with Simon?” are delivered with irony or earnestness; after all, this isn’t Pere Ubu or the Wilderness growling about rubbing elbows with America’s favorite karaoke panel, but instead a band whose charm lies in its ability to create easily listenable pop tunes that reinforce rather than challenge mainstream trends. Likewise, the frequently ambiguous lyrics – repeated phrases like “we’re dying to be friends” and “something’s coming, something’s coming” run rampant – leave plenty of room for creative growth. “I’m not so good with the emotions/ In fact even sometimes I wonder if I even got ’em,” vocalist Warren Spicer intones on “Fake It.” Kudos to Spicer for honesty, I guess.

To the band’s credit, it knows the sound it’s going for and executes it flawlessly, demonstrating a degree of cohesion that suggests Plants and Animals has a lot more than two EPs and two full-lengths under its belt. Nor does the band try to be something it’s not, refusing to shed its self-assured, radio-savvy skin just for the sake of innovation. This is a band that’s more than ready for the big time. For listeners like me, well, we’ll just have to keep getting our kicks a little farther left of the dial.

by Marcus David
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