Sometimes I wonder if the band Sloan is depressed about their legacy. Their biggest influence on North American culture is the widespread use of the word underwhelmed (a neologism that doesn’t even twig my spellchecker in 2016). Oh, and being the fucking fake-AC/DC theme song for Future Shop.
I haven’t been a fan of Sloan for years, although with every new album, my buddy Phil tries to convince me that they’re worth listening to again. Sometimes there’s some interesting stuff, mostly in the songs written by Chris Murphy, but the majority of it isn’t for me.
There was an era of their music that I enjoyed a lot more, though. In particular, 1996’s One Chord to Another was full of interesting songs, had an excellent warm, saturated sound that was free of their later stadium-rock guitars, and acted as a standard by which to compare all other pop songwriting. If you’re within a certain age range and Canadian, One Chord to Another‘s singles are probably really familiar to you: The Good in Everyone, Everything You’ve Done Wrong, The Lines You Amend. It’s a very audiogenic record.
Listening to Bent Shapes’ Wolves of Want feels like listening to the ghost of earlier-era Sloan. When the vocals on the first track start, I get this reflexive urge to figure out if it’s a Chris song or a Pat song (the Bent Shapes’ singer sits somewhere between the two). It’s two guitars, bass, and drums with a warm, clean, pleasing recording and some interesting harmonies—granted, the harmonies are sung by a woman in this younger band. As a shorthand, I would say that if you have any affection for clean, poppy Sloan, you may want to give Wolves of Want a listen.
I don’t think this is a case of Bent Shapes wearing their influences on their sleeve (except in the case of B-sider oddball Béton Brut, which is such a painful Blue-Album-era Weezer ripoff that I cringe when it comes on). I would be surprised if Bent Shapes were fans of Sloan, who aren’t as well known in the States. Instead, I think that when you throw two guitars, a bass, and drums into a jam space, and your musicians are energetic but not all crazy aggro, you’re going to end up with varying degrees of the same music. If you’ve played/watched a lot of live shows, you’ve seen a million variations on this same style, which can be best described as guitar pop.
But as far as guitar pop goes, Bent Shapes does it better than most. The songs have a few surprises in their chord progressions, there are some great turns of phrase, the harmonies are often great, and the record sounds warm but also punchy, really pleasing to the ears. There are a few missteps, notably the super-loud and not-nearly-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is monologue in the middle of USA vs. POR, and the aforementioned Weezer clone, but mostly I can put this album on and enjoy it front to back. When not reminding me of Sloan, it occasionally even has a bit of a Mark Meeks vibe, if you know what I mean.
This is what I mean: