It may come as quite the surprise to learn that half of the formative duo of Maverick Cinema only went to his first concert a mere three years ago. Or to learn that Marshal Dillabough had only recently picked up the guitar when he joined up with former high school friend Cam Harper, who’d been drumming for a few years, to play in a couple of bands and eventually record the band’s first EP–only then followed by two additional members.
But if Sanctuary doesn’t feel like a novice entry to you, it may be more than just beginner’s luck. Dillabough had been banking songs for years before finally finding an outlet for them, and with his rough, flexible voice there was likely enough talent to balance out Harper’s more traditional history. Along with Juno winner Colin Stewart (New Pornographers, Dan Mangan) taking the lead in the studio and it’s no wonder the five song debut feels like the polished entry of an experienced troupe.
And while the band lists Mangan and City and Colour as influences and idols, opener “Beyond the West” reminds me oddly–and sharply–of some classic Pogues. Rough, wrecked and pushing through, it’s the story of a hard time that Dillabough is laying bare with the band’s debut.
The Nanaimo set don’t linger too long in this vein as it segues into three songs set down before an EP was in the working. There’s a lot more of that Dallas Green flavour in “Wastelands,” from the rhythm of the drumming to Dillabough’s falsetto in the intro and the build and slow, steady languishing as the song settles.
There’s more folk to “Roar of a Voiceless Lion” and more bite in the delivery as the drums roll in for a gutsy chorus. “Old Oaks and Pine Trees” sways back towards their indie inclinations but starts to find its own footing as a gentler take.
Soothing “Morrell” offers some closure even as it takes a hard, harsh look at the battering of life. “And the dead you lost is the life you’d rather have,” lingers from the chorus as Dillabough’s rough vocals make a raw return before calling out “Break it all down” before finding the strength “To build it back up from the ground.”
It may say something that Maverick Cinema finds its strength in the songs that came once the EP was in the works, once there was time to look back and see things not just from in the midst but also from a distance. There’s less pretension in the open and close, and the kind of vulnerability that comes once there’s been time to take stock, assess, and realize you can keep going.
Top track: “Beyond the West”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)