Posted on January 15th, 2009 (11:24 am) by Sam Wengrovius

The last time we heard from Mr. Grainger, he was making a splash behind the drums and microphone for the now defunct Death from Above 1979. Citing “creative differences”, Jesse F. Keeler and Grainger quit making music together and have their own projects now, MSTRKFT and “The Mountains” respectively. Both projects are dramatically dissimilar, yet they each share the distinct DNA of their previous collaboration. Keeler’s MSTRKRFT attempts to take DFA 1979 a step forward by hastening the beats and producing for the dance clubs. On his new disc, Grainger is going in the opposite direction of his ex-partner, by making more melodic songs with more traditional sound structures. He made this clear by signing with Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records, filling up their roster alongside the likes of Conor Oberst. To some, this would seem like an odd pairing, but it makes sense after a few listens of Sebastien Grainger & the Mountains. The move may have raised a few eyebrows, but the Toronto-based singer knew exactly what he was doing.

The record is rollicking and rocking, but overall the message is anything but joyous with downer song titles like “Love Can Be So Mean” and “I Hate All My Friends”. Fortunately, his lyrics aren’t nearly as bad as his song titles, but they do lack cohesion and evenness. Put quite simply, it just doesn’t seem like Sebastien is having as much fun as he did in DFA 1979. On DFA’s memorable You’re A Women, I’m A Machine, it sounded like Grainger was an over-sexed party-man, but on this release he emotes like he isn’t getting anything at all. Right off the bat, in the previously mentioned opener, “Love Can Be So Mean”, the first line is “she’ll go with someone else, I’ll be asleep by then”. Not the type of confidence we expected from the guy who wrote the songs “Pull Out” and “Sexy Results”.

Sexual frustration aside, the other problem with this album is Grainger’s treatment of the melodies, which he seems to be emphasizing more than ever. He could have helped himself immensely if he just let the melodies breathe a little instead of drenching them in distorted guitars. We know from his previous work in DFA, that his songs lacked subtlety but this is ridiculous. If he had brought the rocking down a few notches in tracks like “American Names” and “Love is Not a Contest” he may have discovered a softer, more organic beauty. Instead it sounds as if he took a page from the Killers’ playbook by aspiring to create bombastic anthems with huge drum sounds and nonstop guitar. It’s all hit-and-miss, working best on tracks “(I Am Like a) River” and “By Cover of Night (Fire Fight).

Grainger does take a few risks with his tracks, some of which pay off more than others. For example, the inclusion of the live track, “I’m All the Rage” (recorded in 2005) is particularly mind-boggling. The song itself is not a bad performance, but it could have been awesome if it had been re-recorded simply because it features some of the best choruses on the whole album. Sadly, it detracts from the overall sound of the album. “Niagara” is another distracting track with its irritating screamy vocals and lame feedback. At 1:38 it could have easily been scrapped from the album. Fortunately, risk does become reward on his finale, “Renegade Silence,” which gets some help from Sebastien’s electronic side project The Rhythm Method. This bouncy cut features one the finest hooks on the album, on which he sings, “It’s not a war it’s a renegade silence”. If anything it sounds like he took a cue from his old buddy Jesse Keeler, who’s tracks have seen a lot of love in the dancehalls.

Overall, the album feels like Grainger is grasping at influences left and right with varied results. Clearly he’s got loads of ambition but not enough focus. It seems like he wants to shed the hard-rocking sound in lieu of a more emotional and melodic one, but he still won’t dare to soften the amps. I commend if for rocking, but you need the goods in order to deliver a solid album, and much of this album sounds like it’s been done before. What’d be more interesting is if Grainger would put out an electronic record, and Keeler, a rock record. Or maybe they should just make up and get the old band back together. Either way, Grainger needs to find a balance and an original sound or he’ll continue to be over-shadowed by his more innovative labelmates, such as Tokyo Police Club and Cursive.

Track list:
1. Love Can Be So Mean (3:26)
2. Who Do We Care For? (2:27)
3. By Cover of Night (Fire Fight) (3:46)
4. I’m All The Rage (Live ’05) (4:12)
5. I Hate My Friends (4:31)
6. (Are There) Ways to Come Home? (4:03)
7. Niagara (1:27)
8. (I Am Like a) River (4:29)
9. Love is Not a Contest (2:37)
10. American Names (4:12)
11. Meet New Friends (5:12)
12. Renegade Silence (3:38)


Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

© Inyourspeakers Media LLC