Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Joel Plaskett Emergency: Truthfully Truthfully

The first song on Joel Plaskett's 2003 album, Truthfully Truthfully, begins with a tangled, twangy sounding guitar, before thickening into a heavy riff that marks the influence of 70's rock that threads throughout Joel's rock songwriting. On Truthfully, there's a confidence to the music that almost kids the listener, matched with the way the lyrics show a very Canadian interest in self-deprecation and suspicion of success. Truthfully, Truthfully almost has two lives, that arena-rock bravado and that shy earnestness. Joel's songwriting keeps the subject matter light and several degrees away from anger or melodrama, but there are gentle putdowns, beginning with that first track, where his admission that "I've got trouble written all over me" sounds less like a boast than a complaint. Another great track is "Mystery & Crime," where Plaskett muses over a relationship gone horrible wrong, where he is the "guilty" party, but still feels put-upon as the situation gets blown out of proportion ("I go to all the parties / And I never have a good time / It's like we're acting out a movie / Mystery & Crime / I never meant to hurt her / Now everybody's screaming murder, murder, murder...") Truth is, on this site, I tend not to fixate too much on lyrics, because I review a lot of music where the lyrics aren't inherent to the enjoyment of the song. But Joel is a for-sure true-blue songwriter. He knows how to turn a phrase, and how to craft a song that will service that.

Looking at songs like "Work Out Fine," "Extraordinary," and "Come on Teacher," are testaments to this. They are loaded with quirky lyrical details to push their stories and characters along. On "Work Out Fine," Plaskett takes a zen approach to the various inconveniences in his life, determined that "Everything will work out fine" just because he says so, while the music is simultaneously at ease and tense. "Extraordinary" is almost parodic, and testifies to Joel's background on the 90's indie rock scene with Thrush Hermit, seeming like something that could have come from a band like Cake or Sloan.

That first half of the album is loaded with character and added value. The second half is very much straightforward, often earnest and in-the-moment rock, exercises in Joel's ability with classic riffage and arena-sized ballads. The piece pivots on ominous "The Red Light" and "Radio Fly," which cracks open Joel's sentimental side with a chorus as big as all outdoors. "You Came Along" is a doe-eyed ballad ballasted by a swaggering rhythm section. "Lights Down Low" is a vintage rocker. Each of the songs have individual flourishes to distinguish them, like the gorgeous guitar break in "The Day" and the way that "All the Pretty Faces" builds to its first chorus and takes off from there. I particularly love the album closer, "Heart to Heart," though, a raggedy minor-key rocker that sounds a bit like Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The way it slips away from the listener ends the album almost as an ellipsis, like there's still more to come... but later.

In the years since this album's release, Joel Plaskett has proven himself one of the most distinctive talents Canada has produced, probably ever. He's earned this distinction, which I just bestowed on him, largely through his more ambitious projects like Ashtray Rock and Three, which show his commitment to developing his craft and setting new projects for himself. But his regular-ass albums are no less appealing, because he's just so goddamn good at what he does. He may play awkward and goofy, but he is most definitely very assured in his artistic talents. When I listen to an album like this, I feel like I "get" the author's voice, that he has really put himself into the work. And while putting yourself into your music doesn't inherently make it better (there are plenty of embarrassingly personal albums that are also awful) when you get someone who knows their work like Plaskett, that self-assurance provides a deep well of material. The songs on this album are so varied, and yet they all have their charms, and all clearly come from the same mind. Terrific.

Buy this album now: iTunes Canada // iTunes USA // Amazon.ca // Amazon.com

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