OK, time to date myself: I had just moved away from home for the very first time in the year Immaculate Machine released Fables. 2007 was a simpler time! An honest time! A time of new beginnings! A time when irreverent, excitable indie of the ilk of Peter, Bjorn & John, Franz Ferdinand, Hot Hot Heat and the Shins dominated the storage capacity of the first-generation iPods of myself and many a friend. It was pretty dang good.
Enter Immaculate Machine. This was a few years before Victoria, BC’s Kathryn Calder began writing achingly beautiful solo material (starting with 2010’s Are You My Mother?) – and relatively early in her tenure having taken over for an increasingly solo-project-focused Neko Case in the well-established New Pornographers. Compared to either of those projects, Immaculate Machine’s Fables looks decidedly oddball and free-spirited, a weirdo slice of life sandwiching all manner of exuberant instrumentation between Calder’s youthful brightness and the slightly awkward croon of fellow vocalist Brooke Gallup. It’s a record that deftly balances cheekiness and gravity, effervescent power-pop, slashes of zany discord, and wistful lyricism.
“Jarhand” puts Calder front and centre right away. It’s a song that quickly brings to mind the lyrical quirkiness and earnest pop sensibility of the New Pornographers themselves. Her smooth, airy delivery makes songs like “Roman Statues,” “Northeastern Wind” and the slow, moody “Blinding Light” shine from within. On the other hand, in turns like those on “Nothing Ever Happens” and “Dear Confessor,” Gallup has a knack for delivering wry, slightly despairing lyrical missives with a deadpan cleverness that belies their meaning. “Maps won’t show us where we’re going, all they are is just the boring facts – x’s lead us to the treasure, what you gonna do when you finally find it?” The two harmonize sweetly over an array of dynamically groovy keyboards, energetic guitar chops, and even a few sweeping string arrangements courtesy of fellow Canadian wunderkind Owen Pallett.
The songs are a little messy, a little wild, a little dark, and Fables is all the better for it. Immaculate Machine are unafraid to let their songs roll and swell toward rapturous conclusions (“Come On, Sea Legs”) or straight-up slay pop-punk riffs with their hair flailing (“Pocket.”) The album sketches out a distinctly Canadian tension: small-town ennui and sweeping prairie, contagious release of pent-up energy and moments of hushed reflection.
Immaculate Machine would go on to release High on Jackson Hill in 2009 before officially disbanding, influenced by Calder’s mother’s illness and the emergence of a variety of other projects in the works for its other members. Fables remains an intriguing, endearing, idiosyncratic high point for the band.
Top Tracks: “Nothing Ever Happens,” “Roman Statues,” “Jarhand”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)