I have a new favourite album.
I'm writing this blog on my second listen-through to an album called Astoria. If this blog suddenly dissolves into bebop, you'll have to forgive me: this music is tremendous, and tremendously distracting.
Seven years ago I wrote a gushy blog about a Canadian group I had just discovered called Marianas Trench. I wrote then,
This Vancouver group is, at heart, a pop-punk band, like so many ho-hum pop-punk bands infesting the scene today. Unlike pretty much all of them, Marianas Trench has musical ability out the wazoo. Couple that with an utterly fearless eclecticism (this album has everything from doo-wop to an almost Broadway sensibility in places), sprinkle with infectious hooks, and stir in a three-octave-plus range from lead singer Josh Ramsay...and you have an album with staying power.
I'm glad to report the group has staying power. They released an album called Ever After in 2011 that was just as good as the Masterpiece Theatre. This Astoria outdoes both of them. Handily.
American readers, you probably haven't heard of Josh Ramsay, though you've almost certainly heard the song he wrote for Carly Rae Jepsen, "Call Me, Maybe". His own output is considerably more eclectic: in the course of any one song, he's apt to veer wildly from Motown to Queen to Fall Out Boy to Maroon 5, and he somehow welds all that and sweeping orchestral soundscapes together into cohesive and catchy power anthems and love ballads. Though he's not averse to going slumming, as he shows in "Pop 101". Caution: look out for the hooks or you'll be hung up for days. I've been composing since I was four years old: take it from me, this guy's got it.
Astoria is a tribute to the eighties in general and The Goonies in particular (that movie takes place in Astoria, Oregon). That's a whole layer of this I remain ignorant of: I saw The Goonies, but...c'mon, thirty years ago. My wife has that kind of encyclopaedic movie memory; I don't. But I can tell you this album quotes about a dozen eighties hits, from "Money for Nothing" to "Cruel Summer" to the theme from Footloose", and then there's the Marianas Trench tracks. In the space of thirty seconds of "Dearly Departed", Ramsay recites no fewer than eleven titles off his older albums, makes it scan and rhyme, and it fits the sad, sad song he's telling. I'm picturing him sitting beside a dear friend as she lays dying:
Every MASTERPIECE I'd write again
You'll always be my PORCELAIN
I CROSSed MY HEART, but I STUTTER too
So TRUTH OR DARE, so GOOD TO YOU
HAVEN'T HAD ENOUGH of you ALL TO MYSELF
Still right BESIDE YOU, in sickness and health
And EVER AFTER you will be my own
...and there's NO PLACE LIKE HOME.
And the lyrics aren't even this group's strong suit. Musically, there's not a weak track on this album, and that especially includes the orchestral interludes interspersed throughout. The final track, "End of an Era", starts off with a cheeky nod to the symphonic rock suite that closed a previous album, "Masterpiece Theatre Part III", this time with an 80's new-wave vibe, before it pounds off into into a something that flirts with progressive metal..then back down into coruscating chorales of theatrical power pop
There are layers upon layers here. I feel like I could listen to this thing a dozen times and just scratch the surface. Most impressive is their a cappella work: it's absolutely gorgeous.
If you like good music, listen to this album. Here's a link to the full album on YouTube. When I have money--just like the last two MT albums--this one's getting bought.