S#@T You Should’ve Heard Before: Elliott Brood

Elliot Brood was one of the first bands I found when I moved to Toronto, and they’ve remained one of my favorites since. A three-piece featuring two singers, ukulele, banjo, guitars, one of those Moog Taurus synths you play with your feet, and, up until last year, a Samsonite suitcase for a bass drum, these gentlemen are nothing if not unique. And that’s not even counting the unmistakable Mark Sasso on lead vocals.

Their first record, “Tin Type,” is very much kitchen party music.  It sounds like it was recorded in someone’s living room, which is perfect, because I’m pretty sure it was. The very first time I saw them, hidden amidst four or five crappy FM blooz-rok bands in the Horseshoe, they stood out like a grizzly at a polar bear party. Imagine these three guys in suspenders and suitjackets, sweating like crazy under the stage lights, festooned with fedoras and bowler hats–and all the previous bands in jeans and t-shirts with sunburst Stratocasters just standing there, looking confused.

Here’s “Oh Alberta.”

Well, the years passed, and I saw Elliott Brood for free at Nathan Phillips Square, not-free at the Horseshoe, and other venues, any time I heard they’d be playing. Then I found out they’d recorded another record.

“What?!” I asked. “There’s MORE of this wonderful stuff?”

And there was. And, like so many other groups, the Brood decided their second record needed to be a concept record–but theirs was not one built around a nebulous idea, like trying to recreate the sounds of clouds. No, the Brood wrote their second record about a bridge.

The Brood realized that this, their first full-length album, was a chance to tell an integrated story. This is, as a result of that, a hard record to pull tracks from. It really needs to be listened to from start to finish, telling a loose tale of toil and innovation in that same hard, plain steel-town language that has become their signature. This record is based around the building of the Ambassador Bridge, which spans Detroit to Windsor. The Brood mine the same gold as the Americana movement, but north of the 49th. Reaffirming a Canadian sense of self is necessary these days, I think, and telling and retelling Canadian stories still seems like the best way to do it.

Which brings us to the big time. Make sure you listen to this next track all the way through before you read on.

How cool is that? The first time I heard that song, I flipped out, drove to Toronto, and bought a copy of the album the next day. This is where things really heat up for them. The sound on this album is as close as they’ve come yet to capturing the intensity of their live show. Group vocals, singalongs, raucous guitar and that steady thump-thump-thump of the bass drum make this band infectious, and the shocks they put this album through–they’re using ELECTRIC guitars, adding distortion and tremolo! Oh my!–really turns it into the Frankenstein’s Monster of their catalog. This album can cause some damage if you crank it up.

Hear that? Hope you didn’t have your speakers turned up. (But really, I do.)

I think it’s their best record by a wide margin: rough and wild, but still almost bare. This album puts together the best parts of the roots and indie/retro movements into a phenomenal set of songs that I can’t believe didn’t win the Polaris Prize. Though they DID make it to the shortlist, and I love that F****d Up record, I think “Mountain Meadows” is best release of 2008 by a Canadian artist.

Now, though, we’re waiting eagerly the next installment in their story. With “Days Into Years,” I have no idea where they’ll go for their material, but with the first single, I’m guessing Muskoka. I’m not hearing much of the steampunk noise that marked “Mountain Meadows,” but we’ll see how the rest of the album sounds. From this band, though, I have faith they’ll deliver everything we’re looking for.

Well, I’ll write it all down for you/ Bitter teeth, bitter tune, bitter you.

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