Last summer, The Most Serene Republic released their third full-length album, “…And the Ever-Expanding Universe”. It marked a slight shift in direction for the collective, who previously were known for being the only band signed to the Arts & Crafts label that had no official affiliation with Broken Social Scene. That they sounded like Broken Social Scene, well that was just a happy coincidence. What made The Most Serene Republic so distinctive on their own was primarily their dense musical compositions, which tended to incorporate everything from horns and strings to computerized beats. They had some radio-friendly pop songs, but also liked to play around a bit and compose some beautiful instrumentals that added flavor and heart to their records. Since their 2005 debut album “Underwater Cinematographer”, band members have come and go almost as they pleased, though I believe at their highest they were holding steady around 7 or 8 members. Currently they stand at a healthy six members, as long-time guitarist/co-vocalist Emma Ditchburn has now left the band. Now without any female to at the very least provide a foil and solid harmonizer with Adrian Jewett’s vocals, what they’ll do with all those songs Ditchburn was featured on is a mystery to me (though you can go see them live and find out yourself). But like their counterparts Broken Social Scene, The Most Serene Republic actually have a brand new EP out this week, titled “Fantasick Impossibliss”. It’s the first piece of music to be released on the band’s brand new self-created label Home of the Rebels, and it marks a return to their humble beginnings in more ways than one.
Things are interesting right from the start of “Fantasick Impossibliss”, with the track “Comeuppance” going a heavy drum and bass route. Those two instruments with Jewett’s echo-laden vocals meandering through the sparsity is definitely a change from the immense compositions that were all over “…And the Ever-Expanding Universe”. The track builds to something of a head though, as flashes of acoustic guitar begin to slip in and eventually some loud electrics slam it home with some force. There’s not really a chorus to speak of, and at this point I’m not entirely sure if that’s a good or bad thing. “Pink Noise” features acoustic guitar as its anchor, along with a a drum machine and splashes of a horn section, which is reminiscent of the stuff on “Underwater Cinematographer”, and album I love quite dearly. It’s a surprisingly memorable and fun song, and might just be my favorite on the entire EP. The drums and bass once again stand out on “Jelly Chamber”, but this time there’s so many more layers to keep your ear attuned to. Between various guitars and a string section, I was largely reminded of the 2006 “Phages” EP, which just so happens to be my favorite release from the band. “The Church of Acorns” is one of the more normal tracks I’ve ever heard from The Most Serene Republic. Your basic combination of guitars and drums dominate for much of the song, but towards the end you can hear some light strings twitching in the background and a little bit of xylophone for added magical effect. The same goes for “Ache of Goon”, which doesn’t have any xylophone, but there’s a hint of trumpet and violin. The song gets by on sheer charm and a melody that’s attractive for reasons I’m still trying to comprehend. The final and title track of the EP stands in something of a contrast to what came before it. It’s the only song on the EP produced by Dave Newfield and goes on for 2 minutes longer than almost anything else. It’s also more of a sonic collage, featuring piano/keyboard and drums as the main noisemakers, while echo vocal effects are once again employed to both Jewett’s voice and the other members backing him up. The uptempo nature of the track helps it greatly, so much so that the 6.5 minutes flew by before I even started to wonder when it was going to wrap up.
If you’re looking for a commentary on the lyrics, well, they’re not horrible. Adrian Jewett has never been a highly prolific songwriter (no offense), and given the amount of time and precision spent on the instrumental portions of each song, his vocals serve more as another instrument in the mix rather than a collection of words intended to be analyzed and scrutinized to no end. Besides that, there are times where you can’t hear or pick out exactly what’s being said, so try not to get worked up over platitudes and generalizations that might be made. Outside of that, this really does feel like The Most Serene Republic are returning to their formative days on the “Fantasick Impossibliss” EP. Good for them, as their first couple releases were my favorites of theirs. Still, to relatively ignore the progress they’ve made these last few years, as good or bad as it may have been, feels like a step backwards. Surprisingly, the lack of female co-vocalist Emma Ditchburn wasn’t as much of a problem for me as I anticipated it would be, and the other guys in the band were able to fill in the gap with harmonies and backing vocals nicely. So, when it comes down to brass tax, is the “Fantasick Impossibliss” EP worth your time and your $5? Yes, sure, why not. I’ve been rooting for this band since their debut, and while they’ve had a rough spot or two in the past couple years, they continue to evolve and intrigue me with each new release. Now that they’re essentially on their own with their self-started record label, I hope you’ll support them keep them financially stable enough to at least continue making music for the near future. There’s a truly brilliant, game-changing album in TMSR’s future, it just might take a little more time for them to figure out exactly how to make it.
The Most Serene Republic + Annuals Tour Dates:
5/06/10 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
5/07/10 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
5/08/10 – Minneapolis, MN @ 400 Bar
5/11/10 – Seattle, WA @ Crocodile Café
5/12/10 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
5/14/10 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
5/15/10 – Los Angeles, CA @ Spaceland
5/16/10 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room
5/19/10 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
5/20/10 – Houston, TX @ Mangos
5/21/10 – Denton, TX @ Hailey’s
5/22/10 – Little Rock, AR @ Stickey Fingerz
5/23/10 – St. Louis, MO @ Old Rock House
6/15/10 – Washington, DC @ DC9
6/16/10 – Philadelphia, PA @ North Star Bar
6/17/10 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott
6/18/10 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
6/19/10 – Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
6/20/10 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge