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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Kevin Drew
Spirit If...
Arts & Crafts

Rating: 9.4/10 ?

September 17, 2007
Kevin Drew, co-founder of Canadian powerhouse collective Broken Social Scene, doesn't simply make music - he seemingly bleeds the stuff. Drew is one of those rare artists who radiates hordes of passion, tempered with an exceptionally sharp songwriting sensibility. Musical shards shred through the air of his output; this is true with his main project, and most certainly on his new solo offering, Spirit If…

Drew's new effort is the first release in a series called Broken Social Scene Presents, to be issued via that band's venerable Arts & Crafts label. Spirit If… was recorded over a two year period at the home of co-producer Ohad Benchetrit in between the eventful social life of the Social Scene. The second album in the series is currently being recorded by BSS's other co-founder, Brendan Canning, for release next year. Although Spirit If… is billed as a "solo" effort, that's a bit debatable; several members of the un-broken Social Scene crew add their consummate skills to the hour-plus disc, including Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, Dave Newfield, Amy Millan and Canning. But who cares about splitting credit hairs when an album is this glorious from the first to last notes?

Like an orchestra tuning up, a ramshackle splintering of instruments kindles the fire; after a casually spoken "here we go," "Farewell to the Pressure Kids" comes in like a gust of warm wind. It is the first of fourteen tracks that address Drew's favorite topics: fucking, fighting, fearing and hoping. "Farewell" finds Drew mumbling, gargling and whining through musical scenery that is overgrown, wild and wonderful. A humble recurring melody, as tender as a lullaby, forms the foundation, but it is his hallmark majestic arrangements that capture the flag. Drew has a ridiculous knack for taming the outpouring of notes spilling forth from a multifarious mix of instruments - strings, percussion, horns, layered vocals and guitars, even "crazy synths" (check the liner notes). To fans of BSS, the gateway song will sound as luxurious and familiar as anything off the Scenes' remarkable string of albums.

The dam having been burst, the album gushes to the fore, with Drew adeptly navigating the rapids. "TBTF," as the sly acronym suggests, gets right down to business, Drew sighing "But you are too beautiful to fuck/ you're too beautiful," over a slithery combo of vibes and horns. "F-cked Up Kid" is a testament to Drew's acute sense of vocal style; he makes "Skin stains are left across the floor/ I know it's cause we didn't speak about the war" sound as sensual as anything by Sade. There is something about Drew's unabashed freedom, in his subject matter, and in the music itself, that makes listening to him almost cathartic. Whether he's going widescreen or cozy lounge, the intimacy and immediacy are palpable. The entire album is further richened by a glowing list of guest musicians who lend their character to various tracks, including J Mascis, former Pavement guitarist Spiral Stairs (aka Scott Kannberg), Tom Cochrane, and Joules Scott-Key.

I could compose a small paragraph on each of the fourteen tunes found on Spirit If…, they are all that worthy, alas, highlights abound. "Lucky Ones" has Drew pummeling through hundreds of stream-of-consciousness words, spitting out each one with urgent inflection, as Feist and others back him up with a chorus that is simultaneously simple and sublime. When he cries "Every time the future comes into my past/ I know you should sing/ about things that will last," as Spiral Stairs comes into the mix, it's enough to drop this listener's jaw. (A shout-out to Gonzales for the one measure piano coda at the end, mimicking the guitar lead). "Gang Bang Suicide" is disarming in its beauty, drifting to Drew's whispery vocals "So when you die/ will you leave behind/ all the leaves/ that we sold to ourselves."

"Backed Out On The…" is Spirit If…'s first single, a jubilee about backing out on the… cocks (yes, this is Kevin Drew here). The winding guitar work will be immediately recognizable to indie elders as the twitchy hands of J Mascis. The album ends as loosely as it began, with acoustic front-porch ode "When it Begins," proclaiming "It's gonna be really hard when we get to the end/ But don't forget what you felt." The ditty then fitters away in a wash of beautiful distortion. Only someone who truly feels music would (or could) go to such care, as if they're gently letting go of something they love.

In relation to Drew's full band output, Spirit If… falls in between the grandeur of Broken Social Scene's 2002 album You Forgot it in People and their eponymous 2005 release. Spirit If… possesses the naked ambition of the latter, and reconciles it with the naked emotion of the former. It as if Drew has sandblasted the wall-of-sound opulence of Broken Social Scene and stripped it down to its raw elements, getting it closer to the core that made You Forgot it in People such an epic tour de force. It is that masterwork's solo rival, and spiritual equal.

Comparisons aside, one thing is as plain as Kevin Drew's blatant, poetic words: he is one of the most creative and exciting artists on the landscape, and Spirit If… is one of the more thrilling albums you will hear this year, or any. And a final note to all you downloaders: Spirit If… is an album worth buying in person - in addition to the 0s and 1s on that shiny plastic disc, the entire design, packaging, and artwork of the album is something to (be)hold in your very hands. This is one for the ages, an album that you will covet, listen to, and live by.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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