The Rest – SeesawPosted by Richard Potsubay
Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, the seven members of The Rest constitute an over-achieving artistic collective who, though putting music at the forefront of its activities, dabbles in other mediums including video, book-printing, and even beer-brewing. They have long since established a name for themselves in their native land, along the way turning at least a few heads south of the border and across the Atlantic. The Rest’s 2009 sophomore effort, Everyone All at Once, established its grandiose brand of early Radiohead and Arcade Fire-inspired pop. Exquisitely crafted and brimming with pathos, the album’s occasional excesses were a reminder that the band had not yet figured out how to completely channel its creative energy into a definitive musical statement. After much delay, the follow-up, Seesaw, is finally seeing the light of day. Fans will be relieved to find that it expands upon its predecessors, and though it isn’t completely immune to one of Everyone All at Once’s minor pitfalls (frequently taking itself too seriously), it at least continues to uphold the band’s high standards of quality songwriting, musicianship, and lush production values.
Even the most hardened cynic will want to like Seesaw, as its stranger-than-fiction back-story makes it an underdog to root for. At the outset of the album’s recording sessions, The Rest’s producer, Dan Achen, dropped dead of a heart attack. Devastated, the band nevertheless continued on without him (though he is still credited as “Executive Producer” here). A late 2010 release date was planned and things remained on schedule, until a hard drive glitch with a studio computer accidentally deleted the entire master recording, destroying months’ worth of painstaking work. In a last ditch effort, the band hired a data retrieval company, the same one that specializes in extracting flight logs from the black boxes of downed aircraft. Their efforts were successful, and The Rest got its album back.
Such hardship of biblical proportions could spell a sad end to many a band or at least severely impact the quality of a finished product, but on this album’s stronger cuts—and there are many—The Rest sounds as confident and assured as ever. For an example one need look no further than “Always on My Mind”. Beginning with the ethereal strains of Anna Jarvis’ electric cello (the band’s secret weapon), it’s not long before the song becomes a sonic pastoral rife with acoustic and electro drumbeats, seemingly hundreds of guitars in reverb overdrive, and Adam Bentley’s soaring vocals. A vocalist of impressive range, here he croons like a lovelorn Thom Yorke: “I want to touch you/feel alive/I want to lay you down/countryside”. On paper, it might read like hyperbolic sensitive male schmaltz, but, with Bentley’s delivery set against the song’s ornate instrumentation and impeccable arrangements, it dazzles.
“John Huston” (originally released as a single download this spring), continues in a similar vein. “John Huston/take me to the movies!”, sings Bentley in a song that celebrates escapism just as much as it laments the inevitable return to reality, a paradox perfectly illustrated by its shouted chorus floating above swirling flourishes of digital and analog instrumentation. Much like the films of the iconic director of which it pays homage, the song is direct, emotionally honest, and epic in scope. Whether such indie power ballads are appealing or irritating depends on one’s personal tastes. But no one can deny that this endearing bombast is what The Rest does best.
A fortunate new development that differentiates Seesaw from earlier efforts is evidence of a growing musical versatility and willingness to explore forms beyond this signature sound. Take for example “Laughing Yearning”. Incorporating Caribbean and African rhythms into a bouncy and succinct song about the passage of time, it provides the album’s most infectious moment. Such moments initially don’t seem like they would work alongside the more weightier material that is the band’s stock in trade, but they do. They’re reminders that The Rest is capable of trying new things; one just wishes that the band would only take such risks a little more often.
Even though most of Seesaw was conceived and recorded before the series of unfortunate events that plagued its production transpired, almost eerily, much of its material exudes a palpable lust for life. Perhaps while recording it the members of the Rest had a subconscious prescient awareness of not just their own mortality, but also of the tenuous nature of the creative process itself. Sometimes existence alone is a cause for celebration, and more often than not, Seesaw provides it with a worthy soundtrack.