The last time this Kingston-based musical collective appeared on this blog, they had basically recruited the entire musical community of their home city for their album Dawn Time Riot. While this album doesn’t feature a kickass appearance from PS I Love You, Neighbourhood proves that The Gertrudes haven’t lost that sense of “anything goes” that makes them such a pleasure to listen to.
The band seems to feel most at home in the folk and bluegrass genre. Many of these songs touch one of those styles before often changing into something wholly unexpected. “Without Praise” is an example of a highly effective, emotional folk tune made so by the use of strings and the gentle delivery of the chorus. “Water On Your Body” is even more emotional, a love song at heart. While it also starts off gently, it builds in volume and instrumentation, eventually adding in horns and repeating the song title louder and with more voices.
“The Liar” stays consistently gentle throughout as the song’s character ponders what the true definition of a problem is. It later on adds a glockenspiel solo for added effect. “Rhubarb Pie” is a powerful song about a person who is “chock full of emptiness,” a depressing but powerful lyric. The emotion attached to that line is conveyed in the loud and strings-heavy instrumentation and group vocals.
So far, it might sound like this album does only folk well, but several other songs completely break those boundaries. If there’s anything that the band seems to be firing ideological missiles at, it’s the banks. From the song title “All Give Thanks to the Banks of America” wafts fumes of irony, but it may be the most instrumentally interesting track, switching gears so many times it’s hard to tell what’s playing. At times it sounds almost jazzy, but with guitars, and it later evolves into a full-on jam. There’s even more ire in first single “All the Dollar Bills Sing Hallelujah,” written from the point of view of bankers who strike it rich on the backs of those less fortunate.
The Gertrudes even delve into pop-punk, and what a welcome diversion “Walking with Lola” is. It start with a live recording of what sounds like a rhyme girls would sing while playing jump rope before the main melody comes in. The organ is a nice touch and the repetition of the phrase “walking down the street with Lola” after every line of the verse gives it an early 50s feel despite the punk-influenced vocal style and chorus.
It ends with “People in Your Neighbourhood,” an upbeat pop-rock number that has such a universal theme that it could apply to anything; we don’t know our neighbours well enough, but we should. It’s the type of tune that would probably make a hell of a closing tune when performed live.
Neighbourhood will be over before you know it, and that’s because the songs never get too bloated despite the many people at work in the foreground and background. The album will drop on September 17.
Top Tracks: “All Give Thanks to the Banks of America”: “Walking With Lola”; “People In Your Neighbourhood”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)