Plumbiferous Media

…And the Ever Expanding Universe - The Most Serene Republic

Jul 19th 2009
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...And the Ever Expanding Universe - The Most Serene RepublicThe Most Serene Republic
...And The Ever Expanding Universe
Score: 47

The Most Serene Repub­lic began its career in 2003 with two mem­bers, front­man Ryan Lenssen and singer Adri­an Jew­ett. Six years lat­er, it has sev­en mem­bers and has just released its third album under Arts & Crafts, …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse. The Most Serene Repub­lic has focused over time on their shift­ing musi­cal pres­ence, and their newest album dis­plays quite a change from their ear­li­er work, as well as a great deal of diver­si­ty with­in the album itself. How­ev­er, there is a sig­nif­i­cant amount of fluc­tu­a­tion as to which parts of this change do and don’t work - both ben­e­fit­ing and serv­ing as a detri­ment to …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse.

Put sim­ply, the mem­bers of The Most Serene Repub­lic are quite tal­ent­ed. The album begins (after the orches­tral intro­duc­tion) with a piano line play­ing heavy chords, light­ened by syn­co­pa­tion. The piano is then joined by pow­er­ful gui­tar chords accom­pa­nied by drums, all of which fit per­fect­ly into the cre­ative­ly irreg­u­lar line. Lat­er, after an extreme, lengthy crescen­do, the track qui­ets back down to the same piano line, but on the next entrance Adri­an Jewett’s voice joins the gui­tar and drums, mov­ing the track in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent direc­tion. The same piano line takes over a third time around the 2:30 mark, this time altered by a high­er synth line, and the track trans­forms in a third, com­plete­ly unique man­ner. The band also seems to be able to dig itself out of holes. Even though the tam­bour of the drums in “Cathar­sis Boo” is gen­er­al­ly hol­low and dull, the incred­i­bly inter­est­ing drum part more than makes up for the odd sound, to the point where it mix­es quite well with the rest of the track.

The largest prob­lem then with …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse is not locat­ed in any spe­cif­ic ele­ment of the album but in the inter­min­gling of all the ele­ments. Nat­u­ral­ly, it is easy to take issue with cer­tain tracks, such as the excel­lent­ly titled “No One Likes a Nihilist,” with its incred­i­bly abrupt tran­si­tions, “Ves­sels of a Donor Look” and “Four Humours,” both of which main­tain excep­tion­al­ly bright chords (on a very major album) through­out their entireties, or “All of One Is the Oth­er,” which bare­ly plods along. How­ev­er, where the album most often suf­fers is in the amor­phous com­bi­na­tion of large num­bers of voic­es car­ry­ing con­trary lines, includ­ing most of the loud­er sec­tions of “Bub­ble Rep­u­ta­tion,” most of “Heav­ens to Pur­ga­to­ry,” and every­thing after the four minute mark of the lengthy “Pat­ter­nic­i­ty.” These messier sec­tions dimin­ish the tech­ni­cal prowess of the album to such a great extent that one even begins to wish that the band had made a rule of nev­er com­bin­ing more than three voic­es at any one time.

Adri­an Jew­ett and Emma Ditch­burn share vocal duties in The Most Serene Repub­lic, and it’s obvi­ous that, through­out …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse, they’re striv­ing for the right bal­ance and inter­play between their two voic­es. How­ev­er, they nev­er quite reach that point. Jewett’s solo sec­tions are much bet­ter - at his best he dis­plays an intrigu­ing lev­el of nuance, though at his worst he suf­fers from a severe lack of vocal vari­a­tion - even in some of his most inflect­ed sec­tions, the pat­tern of inflec­tion is repeat­ed and quite pre­dictable. Occa­sion­al­ly, one of the two will reach a more inter­est­ing lev­el of cre­ativ­i­ty, such as Jewett’s more inter­est­ing work on the open­ing track, “Bub­ble Rep­u­ta­tion,” but these occa­sions stand in clear con­trast to the rest of the album. Mix­ing deci­sions which leave the instru­men­tal cloud much more promi­nent than any of the vocals com­pound these issues, leav­ing the mediocre vocals buried under sev­er­al lay­ers of sound.

Though many of the lyrics of …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse are obscured by the mut­ed nature of the vocals, those which break through are gen­er­al­ly well-con­sid­ered and fit rhyth­mi­cal­ly to the music. Jewett’s sur­re­al­ly intrigu­ing line on “Bub­ble Rep­u­ta­tion”: “Damn you Sol I said to / Quit your knock / On my door with the pass­ing of time,” demon­strates not only the band’s abil­i­ty to write inter­est­ing lyrics but Jewett’s skilled use of enjamb­ment to com­ple­ment and fur­ther devel­op the irreg­u­lar rhythm of the track. Lat­er lyrics such as “No One Likes a Nihilist“‘s “Quid pro quo fleet­ing” demon­strate the band’s love for lyrics with extreme­ly flu­id mean­ing. This imbues the com­po­nent parts of each track with a poet­ic ambiance but at the same time can leave the tracks some­what con­fus­ing over­all.

In the end, …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse, is an album intri­cate at its best and messy at its worst. The band cer­tain­ly knows how to both com­pose and play inter­est­ing, unex­pect­ed, and pow­er­ful lines, but the band too often relies on den­si­ty, rather than detail. In The Most Serene Republic’s bio, the band writes of mov­ing towards the “ebbs and flows that make you wan­na live.” And while …And the Ever Expand­ing Uni­verse cer­tain­ly fol­lows this mind­set lit­er­al­ly, with upbeat, loud sec­tions paired with much lighter sec­tions, they often, among sta­t­ic slow sec­tions, abrupt tran­si­tions, and shape­less denser sec­tions, seem to lose sight of what they claim to be their orig­i­nal pur­pose for ebbing and flow­ing: avoid­ing stag­nan­cy.

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