Vinyl Vlog 154

Vinyl Vlog 154

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the 10” reissue of the Airplane Tracks EP by The Burdocks.
It might seem unbelievable, but perhaps the greatest creative crime that Sloan ever committed was being so good and becoming so popular and casting such a large shadow in the 1990s and early new millennium that they completely eclipsed all of the other bands which were beginning to appear in Canada’s maritime provinces. Really think about it, reader – Thrush Hermit and Joel Plaskett got started in the early Nineties (and made some pretty spectacular music on their early EPs), but it was a pretty well-kept secret until Clayton Park came out in 1999 – at roughly the same time Sloan lost a bit of ground with the weak performance [compared to Navy Blues and One Chord To Another –ed] of Between The Bridges. The same it true of The Burdocks; a genuinely colossal talent, those who were aware of The Burdocks sang their praises pretty loudly to anyone who might listen. Their praises included comparing the band to Built To Spill, Modest Mouse and even Pavement and, while not every single one of those comparisons could have been mistaken for accurate, they were both permissible and understood because the group’s supporters were clearly making those comparisons in hopes of seeing the band break through. It didn’t happen on the level they hoped for, of course; the wider expanse of what Canadian rock had to offer beyond Neil Young and Sloan didn’t really become apparent until Broken Social Scene and the rest of the crew at Arts & Crafts Records shattered the glass ceiling in 2005 and got the world to at least look beyond the tip of the musical iceberg but, by then, The Burdocks were already ambitiously looking more toward prog with wholly mixed results. The band was pretty much done by 2006 (Seth Smith would start Dog Day with Nancy Urich as a side project in 2004 and eventually move toward that outlet full-time) but, happily, the fine folks at Label Obscura still remember The Burdocks – remember how good the band was and remember how dearly they deserved more praise than they ever received – and want to make amends for history’s ignorance. It might be the hope of making the music stand out like a light in the darkness which compelled the label to press the EP into white vinyl too; so it stands out from a sea of black.

Readers who are unfamiliar with The Burdocks’ history may be skeptical of the dialogue above, but that skepticism quickly begins to evaporate when the needle drops into place on Airplane Tracks‘ A-side and “Pop Cult” opens the proceedings with a slick sound which falls right between indie-pop and alternative rock. Here, guitarists Seth Smith and Nancy Urich begin to build a fantastic amalgam of interpersonal drama, sweetness and aching heart-brand depression with their performance before singer/bassist Christian Simmons enters sleepily, but with hopeful eyes and the words, “Contestants took the court exercising smiles/ Judges held score cards to show what they were bribed.” Regardless of whether a listener first heard this when it was originally released in 2004 or now in 2016, getting pulled in by it is just inevitable because (and there’s no other way to phrase this) the composition and delivery is just timeless and classic. There is absolutely, positively no escape from it and, after they’re in, listeners will have no desire to leave.

After “Pop Cult” ensnares them, The Burdocks turn up the volume a bit on listeners for “Icicle Knife” but are careful not to abandon the pop streak in themselves – so what listeners get is a completely unique hybrid. Here, screechy and angular guitar phrases and angry lyrics like “You know what your problem is/ You don’t know when to stop” are cut and spliced with some of the finest melodies in pop, and the result is a mix which doesn’t overtly favor either but utilizes both to develop movement within the song (quiet-yo-loud dynamics, like any number of classic alt-rock songs) and sing the hook first set by “Pop Cult” a little deeper.

Following the more angular turn of “Icicle Knife,” “Receipts” slows the tempo of the A-side down to a near-comical stomp and crawl which will still inspire dubious grins (one can almost hear the band resisting fits of laughter beneath lines like “Are we getting sick and tired yet of staying awake/ I can’t say any more to ready written lines”) before “Save The World” rolls in with some collegiate, fuck-it-all-for-a-laugh alt-pop guaranteed to warm the cockles of every listener’s heart which commands that listeners sit tight and follow Airplane Tracks through its B-side too. As was the case elsewhere on the EP’s A-side, the lyrics of “Save The World” are truly fine works of the sort that most bands cherish, but the beauty in this case is that they also seem to line up like punchlines to half-told jokes (check out “Smile – there’s always a next time/ Celebrate the energy you waste/ Troubleshooting blanks, skip the Q and A-athon/ and I wrote my name on all the dollar bills I gave/ To see if they’d return to me someday”) and they still sound good. True, the song doesn’t sound completely finished and does have its awkward moments but, in the tradition of indie rock greats like Pavement, Liz Phair, R.E.M. and (yes) Sloan before them, the little moments of awkwardness serve as a great relief and make the moments of sublime greatness that much better.

Compared to the epic note that the A-side ends on, the slow and reflective-seeming note upon which the B-side begins feels like a complete departure. Even so though, listeners will find themselves rushing to keep up as the song begins begins to wind itself up and, by the time the song reaches that moment where it just hangs suspended on a minor chord, they’ll be sold and locked in – and Simmons then rewards them with a great, croaking vocal performance. Through this lyric sheet, The Burdocks analyze many of the questions that most every band asks themselves; where they’re headed and how they’re going to get there are questions clearly asked in “We Seat Ourselves” (written as “We Suit Ourselves” in the liner notes), and that such misgiving is situated on top of the angular composition of the song not only makes sense, it’s perfectly appropriate – one aspect feeds the other. After that, “Room Temperature” really just plays like an extended outro for “We Seat Ourselves” (much slower in tempo and just two minutes long, it really stands out as the exception to Airplane Tracks‘ rule), but the band gets right back on track for the B-side ender, “Battle Of The Band.” There again, Burdocks use speed and volume to move the song along as they sleepily throw around witty barbs (“Can you break a penny and change this out of character role I’m playing”) before being self-critical acerbically (“This is what you get when opposites attack”), and of course it works very well. “Battle Of The Band” lets this EP end in much the same way it began, and so makes it easy to run through the EP as a whole over and over. It never gets stale during marathon plays; the peaks and valleys of the songs just hold listeners, and pull them along.

…And that’s the funny thing about this EP, listeners will find they’re happy to just go along with the band on this EP, in perpetuity! While many established, longtime fans would likely have no trouble following along with any album side-after-side on the right day, the Airplane Tracks EP has the ability to also captivate and win new fans now, as easily as it did when it was originally released thirteen years ago. That, it could be argued, is the sure mark of a classic album: regardless of fashion or trends, the music is able to succeed on the strength of fine craft alone. It’s a rare trait, but certain one that this EP has.


The vinyl reissue of the Airplane Tracks EP is out now and available in limited numbers. Buy it here, directly from Label Obscura.

Comments are closed.