Review – “Gremlins 3” – B.A. Johnston

gremlins-3reviewed by Michael Thomas

There are a few inalienable truths about the Canadian music landscape; while it will have always have its “pillars” like Joel Plaskett, B.A. Johnston is the artist that speaks the real truths about being Canadian. Other Canadian artists can write paeans to the landscape, but Johnston will write about being too drunk to be in a canoe, being on a Greyhound and leaving Ontario behind, or why you shouldn’t go to Orangeville.

It’s hard to believe he’s only had a new album out every two years. It might be because he packs so much into each one, and at least half could be considered classics for tackling extremely specific instances that are somehow also universal problems. He also slightly ups his instrumental game each time, with this album not only featuring a backing band (making for some blisteringly excellent numbers like “I Need Donair Sauce,” no song explanation needed) but also production from Mathias Kom.

As per usual in Johnstonland, there’s a healthy mix of songs about drinking beer, some that are downright hilarious, some that are about specific Canadian places, and some that are disarmingly sweet or poignant.

If you’re looking for new beer-drinking songs, Gremlins 3 has you covered. “Cheap Suds” is about, you guessed it, the joys of cheap beer. “Too Messed Up to Be in this Canoe” is exactly what it sounds like. “Alley Beers” is a song about drinking outside and backed by a great 8-bit backing track. “Ikea I Used to be a Man” is about how Ikea’s labyrinthine stores and impossible-to-assemble furniture turned Johnston into an alcoholic.

Plenty of hilarity to see too. “Cat Food Fork” is perhaps one of the most aggressive songs he’s written so far about the rage associated with eating with a cat food fork. “I Am Turning Into My Grandma” details Johnston’s aging, but with the aside that while he may be becoming an old person, he doesn’t do racism or homophobia—or enjoy Michael Bublé. There’s also something charming in hearing Kom’s backup vocals. “Drivethru Beef” takes a dark synth-pop foray into a classic problem: ordering a burger with no mayo, then finding out it’s covered with mayo.

“Orangeville” and “Saskatchewan” are Canadian-place songs with different messages. The former is a cautionary tale about the small Canadian city, while the latter is a road song about leaving Ontario behind and heading west.

Then there’s the quietly powerful songs, like “Dayoff is a Dayoff.” The song is funny at first, as Johnston sings of being near the phone and drinking like crazy so that when his boss calls him into work, he can say he’s too drunk to do so. By the end, it’s clear the song has a serious message: pay someone a shit amount of money, don’t expect them to go above and beyond for you. “I Will Make You Lasagna” is another surprisingly sweet song, in which Johnston sings about helping out his partner who is tired from work by “making” her a dinner of frozen lasagna, No Name salad and garlic bread.

If you’re downtrodden or down on your luck (or just love songs about beer), Johnston is your champion. If you’re from a small town, he is your champion. If you sneer at elitism, Johnston is your champion. In other words, Johnston is a champion of the Canadian people.

Top Tracks: “I Need Donair Sauce”; “I Am Turning Into My Grandma”; “Drivethru Beef”; “I Will Make Lasagna For You”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*

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