reviewed by Chris Matei
Nanaimo, BC is a small town on a big island, perched on a hillside overlooking the Pacific: the sweeping water and forest, the shifting calms and energies, bright days and crashing storms that mark this vista have inspired the creation of Nanaimo-based Gold and Shadow’s debut LP, Torch.
The BC foursome trades in cinematic-sounding art rock of the kind that sounds like it should be played in the widest, most awe-inspiring of outdoor festival settings – the kinds of natural amphitheatres like Pemberton and Squamish that now draw tens of thousands over summer weekends. From the get-go, Torch strikes a balance between vocalist Dane Letorneau’s immediately approachable, kind-voiced delivery and the band’s propensity for spinning simple, charming folk-alt riffs into anthemic crescendoes reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie at their most ebullient.
“Search for Sara” is an early highlight, its punchy guitars and bright, groovy drums framing a touching story of a family’s complex response to grief. On many of TORCH’s tracks, complex and crunchy guitarwork gives the choruses major heft, contrasting with delicate phrasing in the verses. Listening through, I was reminded of the recent songwriting work done by Hey Rosetta!, a band with a similarly ambitious, focused and energetic musical aesthetic, albeit one hailing from the far opposite coast. By contrast, “Running Out of Room” is far simpler; a bouncy, poppy arrangement driven by ambling organ lines that roll invitingly under the drumbeats.
Some of TORCH’s songs, like “Half Moon,” start off with a sinister tension in the arrangement – shades here of the early, funk-infused output of those much-stereotyped Californians, Incubus – allowing their choruses to be shiny gold-tinted accompaniments to the more shadowy verse sections. “Providence” burns slowly, the flame of persistent piano stabs licking away at layers of post-rock-influenced guitar and revealing dynamically cresting and falling drums. These songs and textural choices – like the trumpet lick that flavours the middle of “Creature Down”- help TORCH show off the diversity of sonic colours on Gold and Shadow’s wide empathetic palette.
In an indie-rock world where oversized, overblown thundering of the Imagine Dragons mold has come to signify “big” sound, Gold and Shadow display a sense for scale and dynamism on TORCH that is driven by keen songwriting and the ability to craft emotional weight in lyrics and instrumentation alike. It’s an album that, like its birthplace, contrasts things fearsomely large and wide with others intimate and quiet.
Top Tracks: “Providence,” “Half Moon,” “Search for Sara”
Rating: Prout Hoot (Really Good)