It really hasn’t been that easy for Elizabeth Powell. From her first European tour, opening for The Decemberists (QRO album review), being cancelled, to pissing off her home city of Montreal after saying she got better crowds in the States (she made those remarks to QRO – QRO interview), from boyfriend/producer Justin Vernon going from touring guitarist for The Rosebuds (QRO spotlight on) to breaking through big-time as Bon Iver (QRO album review), and then them breaking up (reportedly), from the rotating cast of characters behind her on bass and drums (including formerly Chris McCarron, now of The Dears – QRO photos) to the vocal polyps that sidelined her after finally getting a solid line-up & more attention, opening/performing with (QRO photos) Broken Social Scene (QRO spotlight on) – Lizzie Powell really has had to persevere as Land of Talk. But she’s also put together some killer records, starting with Applause Cheer Boo Hiss EP (QRO review) in 2006, debut full-length Some Are Lakes (QRO review) in 2008, last year’s Fun and Laughter EP (QRO review), and now sophomore LP Cloak and Cipher, which sees Powell & co. culminate an airy rise in her effectively touching indie-rock.
First things first, Cloak and Cipher isn’t quite as pitch-perfect as Some Are Lakes. Like the first full-lengths from collective contemporaries Ra Ra Riot (QRO spotlight on) or Los Campesinos! (QRO spotlight on), Some Are Lakes both included road-honed debut EP material and grew from the EP, making you fall even deeper in love – but that was a feat that their all-original follow-ups naturally couldn’t quite repeat. And Powell doesn’t repeat herself on Cloak, continuing to inject the higher elements that she did in Fun and Laughter. The "meat & potatoes indie-rock" (Dan Harris of ABC News) of Lakes has been given a softer feel that, while it can’t rock as hard, makes for a new kind of emotional touch.
Like seemingly every other record these days (gonna keep saying that until it stops happening so often…), Cloak opens with its title track that introduces Land of Talk’s sound on the record, bringing in distant fuzz. Done well there and on the following "Goaltime Exposures", the mix of Lands reaches its peak on the subsequent "Quarry Hymns" (thanks to the added pressure of guest-drummer Jeremy Gara of The Arcade Fire – QRO live review) and "Swift Coin".
From there, Land of Talk go further on the horns-and-strings-included "Color Me Badd", an emotional epic that still can’t match the likes of Broken Social Scene, and then delivers a tech-stop/start fuzzy remove in "The Hate I Won’t Commit" that is really not in Powell’s wheelhouse (despite piano solo from fellow Montreal musician Patrick Watson – QRO spotlight on). Thankfully, Powell returns to the rock with "Hamburg, Noon" – the most ‘old Land’ of anything on Cloak – and "Blangee Blee", before finishing out with the relaxed procession "Playita" (though which didn’t need the guitar-distort solo) and the most effectively airy piece on the record, closer "Better and Closer" (but it has a minute of silence before a soft, swaying instrumental epilogue – when are bands going to stop doing the silence-then-hidden material on the final track? It’s a pain to work around on your iTunes playlists, and can feel indulgent – or at least out-of-date…).
Recovered from polyps & with a new LP under her belt, Powell & Land of Talk head out on their biggest headlining tour to-date in November (and maybe QRO can finally do that follow-up interview we’ve had our own hard time getting…). High or low, things may never come easy for Lizzie Powell, but that only gives Land of Talk a greater touch.
MP3 Stream: "Swift Coin"