Long title, huh? It’s partly because this recording is actually a double EP, combining new and previous material from Formalists, a Toronto band that is seriously refreshing to listen to thanks to its embrace of warmness in all things, from Joseph Landau’s passionate vocals to “happy” instruments like the xylophone on several songs.
The first half of the double EP, Congratulations To Those Who Move Onwards and Excel, provides a great introduction to the band and could very well cause the listener to break out into smiles. “Everything is Slang” introduces the warmth right away with deep vocals and a blend of acoustic guitar and xylophone. The highlight of the first half, “Thomas Edison: The Great Intender,” follows. The beginning has the character singing of Quebec, and featuring a gem of a line: “And I fell in love once a week, from Laval to Chicoutimi.” The song morphs into a tropical beat partway through, eventually incorporating xylophone (one can never have too much xylophone) and even some banjo.
“Education” is a tireless song, like a train that keeps on moving, and later swells with a flurry of sound and some vocal shouts, always the key to proving how passionate a band can get. The closer for the first half, “Allegretto,” can be compared in both vocal style and overall sound to the music on David Vertesi’s album Cardiography.
The second half of the recording shows a brief departure from the band’s “warmth” but a welcome return to it by the end. “Psalm For Abraham” is a markedly upbeat number that features a bit of call and response, then departs briefly to a weird synth-y jam before returning to whence it came.
“Debonair” is the strongest song in this second half, starting with a fantastic bit of wordplay and imagery: “I had a flask and a hand-rolled cigarette/My tongue was tied in a nicotine safety net.” The song can be compared favourably to Graham Wright’s more recent solo work with its fun turns of phrase and fairly simple melodic structure.
“Sun Also Rises” is a title certain to conjure images of Hemingway, and the music itself can be called old-timey. There is a wonderful bit of piano in this and features lot of interestings lines like you “You pray to kings of carnivores.” What that means is anyone’s guess, but it makes one think. Finally, there’s “And Here, And There, And Yet, And Again,” which starts out with some synths and percussive taps before returning to the warmth that defines the first half of the recording. The lyrics about childhood are particularly touching and make for a great end.
Formalists have a lot going for them, thanks to their embrace of heartfelt yet playful lyrics and idiosyncratic melodies. Congratulations To Those Who Move Onwards And Excel! is available from Bandcamp, with the rest of the music to be released shortly, presumably.
Top Tracks: “Thomas Edison: The Great Intender”; “Debonair”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)