Peter Dreimanis is not the first artist to explore and embrace the raspy depth of his vocal range and discover that he loves the sound of it in a mic as much as his fans do. He might, however, be the first to successfully exploit it since Madrugada’s Sivert Hoyem back in the early 2000s. Unleashing it juxtaposed with the sugary sweet cadence of Leah Fay over a blues-rock backdrop is a triple-play that landed the band breakout act of the year awards and critical acclaim in their home country of Canada as well as in the US. It goes without saying that their sophomore LP Touch is ripe for the sort of scrutiny that is inevitable in situations where expectations are already high.

For the most part, the album delivers on those expectations. Though it’s not without its unexpectedly unsuccessful moments, it rises to the occasion nicely by strutting onto the stage confidently with “Picturing Love.” Following that, a fantastic clap-along rock number “Beck + Call” which notably features an appearance by the unusual but highly prolific Canadian Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Her contribution mixed in here as more of a rhythm instrument, the effect accelerates an already high energy track.

The band covers a lot of territory on this record ranging from soulful pop music to something that approaches alt-rock or even metal. “Johnny + Mary” dives into long wavering drones punctuated by distorted guitar riffs and Fay’s filtered vocals which, rather unfortunately, comes across harder on the ears than the rock ‘n’ roll effect which was probably designed. That seems to be the biggest flaw with this record, which arguably isn’t a big one at all. Fay’s vocals work best when she does what she does best—plays it soft, sweet and clear. It sets you up for the stark contrast of Dreimanis in much the same way a snare runs in contrast to a bass drum. The minute the two start reaching for the same goals, things come off the rails a bit.

Both “Now I Know” and “Lola + Joseph” reach into more accessible and radio-friendly pop territory and the magic fades a little. Fortunately it’s not by much as the latter is still decorated with enough loud riffage to breathe the shtick back in. As Dreimanis lines up his machismo with “I say Lola!” and Fay responds with a faux naïveté, “I say Joseph!” amid the scratchy backdrop of all-out guitar rampage, the track begins to really soar. There’s an old-school romanticism that seems to allow the male and female roles on this record to mingle and be celebrated while not compromising anyone’s dignity or ruffling the feathers of the gender police. In fact it’s the overarching theme of the record.

The album loses direction with noisier tracks such as “So Sorry,” but attention was paid to song placement and the creation of a nice ebb and flow compensates nicely. “Jesus Said So,” a far more minimalist blues-rock number comes in to give the listener a breather. The title track “Touch” goes out with a wavering drone and slowly rising vocals amid a storm of atmospherics.

Every now and then Canada’s indie pot boils over and something drops out which appeals to an international audience. It used to be Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and basically anything touched by the Arts and Crafts label. But we’re a little further along now, beards are starting to get shaved and there’s a palpable backlash against the perception of hipsterism. July Talk, being the antithesis of that scene, is putting the serious back in rock ‘n’ roll. It’s still early to tell whether or not this record is strong enough to make the beauty-and-the-beast shtick an international success. By all accounts their first record should have done that because it was an overall stronger effort. But this is anything but a sophomore slump.

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