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9 out of 10
For a fledgling record label All Aboard Records are doing a pretty fine job of unearthing and promoting some real talent (see my reviews of Tell it to the Marines and the Chaos Days/All or Nothing split). But more than this, it is difficult to accuse All Aboard Records of nailing their flag to a single mast, and with John Candy's debut album, Conversations, they yet again show that it is talent, and not genre, that they are looking for.
However this isn't a review of a record label, but a review of an album.
Coming from the musical Mecca that is Buckinghamshire, John Candy, look to be the closest thing England is going to get to uncovering a credible alternative to Death Cab For Cutie. Conversations is an intriguing album, at the same time offering a lo-fi slice of indie-pop but, at least to me, containing a huge amount of universal appeal.
While I can stomach some of the more indie orientated rock acts coming out of America, Death Cab, Silversun Pickups.well actually that's about it; I've never been a huge fan of the genre. However, this album had me hooked straight away. The first time I heard it I knew I liked it, I knew it instinctively, the songs had enough about them so that on repeated listens I knew to prick my ears up for the sections I had fallen for first time through. The combo of Like Rivers and When I Was Younger with their careening beauty and understated charm were early stand-outs.
To reiterate an earlier point, John Candy will draw inevitable comparisons to Death Cab For Cutie, and like the shameless bandwagon-er I am, I feel compelled to add to this. It is at times uncanny, though it never sounds like an attempt to rip them off. For a relevant example, Owl City is an utterly shameless rip off of Postal Service (Ben Gibbard was in that, see how I've linked that to this review? Yes I am that damn good at what I do.), but John Candy never seem to be doing more than tipping their hat to DCFC in a respectful way. I admire that. Plus, to add to a comment I made in an earlier review (incidentally one of label-mates Tell it to the Marines), this is idiosyncratically British music. There can be no criticism levelled at John Candy for trying to emulate an American style, they may have influences from our Atlantic cousins, but this is a definitively British album. To elucidate on this point there is an inherent quirkiness or alternative nature to the songs that American bands seem to be unable to convey. Perhaps I am wrong and it something intangible that ties these bands together, and I think I would prefer it if it was, but it is distinctive enough to warrant me harping on about it, alright?
I feel it needs to be mentioned that for this recording John Candy was a duo, with Ant West doing all but drum, which was handled competently by George Lindsay. In this sense, Conversations benefits from West's deft piano work which drives the gorgeous January 1st, interplaying with his own guitar lines. This compulsive approach of masterminding every part of the album from inception to completion has seemingly worked wonderfully on this album.
There are songs on this album that meander along in such a leisurely way that it is hard to keep your focus on what you are doing. John Candy allows you to drift off to wherever it is in your head that you secretly want to go. Conversations could easily be described as the soundtrack to a daydream; it has an ethereal quality that is rarely heard in indie-rock. However, the band know how to pick up the pace when they need to, She Knits Away is probably heavier than the majority of Death Cab songs for instance, and it is the care that has clearly been paid to the playing order, that allows this album to hold your attention for its entire duration.
I enjoy this album more and more on each listen, as someone not a huge fan of the genre I feel John Candy have been able to transcend genre limitations and have the potential to win fans from the entire musical spectrum. On the basis of this album they deserve to. Conversations is full of stand-out songs, I would be at pains to pick out a song that could be classified as filler and if I was allowed I would sit here and list all the things I like about each song, but alas I am not. So just accept my hearty recommendation, regardless of your musical taste, to try John Candy, because this is going to be a contender for my album of 2010.
3. Like Rivers
4. When I Was Younger
5. Confession Booths
6. January 1st
7. This Chair
8. She Knits Away
9. People Sink
10. The Long Run
11. Eat Fire