This year’s winner of Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize, Patrick Watson’s Close To Paradise is an orchestral thing of beauty. Getting the C$20,000 prize over such acclaimed records as Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible (QRO review), Feist’s The Reminder (QRO review), and The Besnard Lakes’ The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse (QRO review), this dark horse record looks set to vault the Montreal-based Watson into the ‘next big thing from Canada.’ More than just beautiful, Close To Paradise is lyrical and moving, exquisite without being fragile.
Patrick Watson has been putting together touching and haunting music for a while now, from 2003’s Just Another Ordinary Day to his work earlier this year on Cinematic Orchestra’s Ma Fleur (QRO review), but Close To Paradise finds him with his fullest, best-crafted sound yet. Much of this credit should probably directed towards his bandmates, bassist Mischka Stein, drummer Robbie Kuster, and especially guitarist Simon Angell, whose intricate and interesting guitar-work nicely complements Watson’s vocals and piano.
For a perfect introduction to Watson, look no further than second Paradise track, “Daydreamer”. Expansive, crashing, and wonderfully melodic, with choice effects, “Daydreamer” is everything that’s right with Patrick Watson. Close To Paradise is able to grab the listener and carry him or her along, without ever feeling overbearing, across its many changes. “Giver” never loses the listener as it goes from high and encompassing orchestral portions to ultra-subdued piano & vox, while the following “Weight Of the World” delivers great effects, laid over the music and lain inside it. The alt-country “The Storm” has a distant, echoing voice that manages to remain ironic, while the explosive chorus and incredible breakdowns of “Luscious Life” totally wins you over. Single “The Great Escape” has impressive emotion on this stripped-down piece, while Paradise finisher “Bright Shiny Lights” starts its sad anthem, its slow gospel, as small and poignant, but then goes big, without ever losing that nature. And “Man Under the Sea”, the standout track on this standout record, is wry and knowing but utterly tuneful, laid-back but engrossing.
There are, however, a few songs on Paradise that feel like they could have used a bit more substance, such as the flowing eponymous opener. “Slip Into Your Skin” is indeed sliding and gliding, but doesn’t try for much more than that. “Mr. Tom” is a nice piano instrumental, but only ‘nice’, while the haunting “Drifters” doesn’t have much else. And the interesting “Sleeping Beauty” unfortunately feels a little too affected and removed.
But these are only flaws because one knows Patrick Watson can do so much more. For the most part, Close To Paradise is a revelation on par with the Revelations. But in this case, it’s only the beginning of the story…