Brendan Canning sets a mood and sticks on his latest studio run, Home Wrecking Years. It’s a record that feels homey, polished but off-the-cuff, sincere but not without flashes of playful humor. It’s also remarkably of the present while still having one or two toes in the past.

“Once I Was a Runner” summons the spirit of the soulful, masterful works of Boz Scaggs amid flashes of postpunk reverie. Smooth and mellow as the record can be, there’s no sense that Canning has eased into making subtle records for the quietly aging set. Opener “Book it to Fresno” cooks with earthshaking bass, loud guitars and drums that could open up a new fault line. Between that and “Vibration Walls,” one suspects that Canning could have made Canada’s loudest pop record if he’d wanted to. That would have been great fun, but would have denied us this record’s quieter, more sophisticated turns.

The lush, well-crafted “Work Out in the Wash” recalls Starbuck’s laidback 1976 hit “Moonlight Feels Right.” It’s a great setup for the soft rock of “Keystone Dealers,” informed by Latin music and a touch of exotica. “Hey Marika, Get Born” sounds like it should be the focal point of a quirky indie movie, and it may be the album’s finest moment.
A moody sliver of a composition, “Sleeping Birds Like Lazers” would not have been out of place on the Broken Social Scene man’s previous outing, You Gots 2 Chill. The elliptical lyrics give the sense that its being composed in real time, as though its author doesn’t know any better than the first-time listener where it’s going. Canning can get away with such things because he’s so consistent, as on the more fully realized closer “Baby’s Going Her Own Way.” No less enigmatic than its predecessor, it has a far more determined stride from the first beat. The balance of the almost-haphazard and the carefully-composed assures us that Canning knows exactly what he’s doing.

It’s not always easy to figure out what the songs are about, but that’s to their advantage. The listener is often left to guess whether he’s writing about a jettisoned relationship or a still-mending heart; whether the gang is getting up to carefree fun or licking wounds that are only now just healing; whether his protagonist has something to be ashamed of or is standing proud.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, especially when you’re handed a gift from a master craftsman who takes you for a joyful ride into the dimming days of summer. Home Wrecking Years evokes those moments when August peels back its veneer to reveal autumn, and you hold out hope that the rest of the year will be smooth sailing. You might even believe that the coming season will only improve upon your fairly solid happiness. Sure, that optimism can be a mirage; but for 10 songs which whir by all too quickly, those promises seem like nothing less than certainty, a full-on celebration.

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