Toronto’s The Most Serene Republic take from Canada and America's collective-style of music, yet add their own elements, on the engrossing Population. Their third release in as many years, MSR fulfill the growth pattern set by last year’s Phages, out of their 2005 debut, Underwater Cinematographer. But they also bring back the sunshine of Cinematographer, and inject the whole thing with a bucketful of energy.
The Most Serene Republic set the tone with their opening instrumental, “Humble Peasants”. Bright and shambling, it is very reminiscent of hometown big shots Broken Social Scene, especially in its horns. On most of Population, the influence of this decade’s ‘Canadian Invasion’ of large, commune-like bands is clearly evident, but also present is inspiration from big American enclaves, like Dallas’ Polyphonic Spree (QRO album review) (or even European ones, like Wales’ Los Campesinos! – QRO album review). But the tracks on this record are anything but derivative or uninventive. “The Men Who Live Upstairs” encompasses the listener from the outside, while simultaneously reaching him or her on the inside, and the following chorus anthem “Present of Future End” brings a remarkable force. Perhaps the straightest-up ‘MSR’ song is middle number “Sherry and Her Butterfly Net”. With the vocals relegated to more of a background position, the orchestral sound shines with its quick-tempo rhythm changes.
Other pieces follow this shambling, jambling, and expansive path, like second track “Compliance” and second-to-last track “Multiplication Desks”, but there are also a number that take this approach and give it a new spin. “Why So Looking Back” trends towards the more atmospheric, but slides and glides with power and purpose. The harder-hitting “Career in Shaping Clay” is effective and interesting with its more distorted vocals, but is still both melodic and shambolic. The following “Solipsism Millionaires” is the most guitar-focused number on Population, going wistful, and carrying that sadness well. And finisher “Neurasthenia” is quieter with its harmony.
With all this growth and success, The Most Serene Republic at times go overboard in their attempts at the new. The jazz-grooving instrumental “A Mix of Sun and Cloud” is actually nice, but while the piece is certainly different than anything else on Population, it’s still quite familiar as an 80’s-esque smoothie (including nighttime saxophone), like the theme to a Miami Vice clone. The following “Battle Hymn of the Republic” retains some of that smoothness, but gets big and crashing, yet it tries to be too many different songs, all in one. And a handful of tracks on the record feature a too-quiet, too-long intro, a too-quiet, too-long outro, or both.
For a band that only started in 2003, The Most Serene Republic sound much older and more experienced than their years on Population. The evolutionary trajectory from Underwater Cinematographer to Phages to now is quite clear. More than just taking from a field guide to the collectives of North America, they’ve built upon that base. If sometimes they stretch too far, well, stretching has done much for them so far.