Plants and Animals Make Orchestral Rock Fun

Plants and Animals' music is orchestral yet pastoral—baroque folk?
Caroline Desilets

Montreal Exposure
Life’s a party for orchestral rockers Plants and Animals

“Well, it’s hard to live/It’s hard to live in the city,” one of the Strokes guys sings. It is hard to be a part of—and get down with—this current under/overclass of indie urban youth (and its thirtysomething hangers-on), a Generation Debt of hyperinformed yet superdumb wi-fi hounds with anxiety disorders. Collectively, we have guilelessly wandered into the aftermath of a cultural epoch of coke-snorting, ironic near-nihilism; violent detachment; and a sense of cool that’s mean, acrid and defeating.

Such deconstruction can, by its nature, only last so long. (Plus, Barack Obama’s got many young people all slippery-wet and maybe even genuinely hopeful again.) Helping the cause of pointed positivity is the Canadian band Plants and Animals, just one among a contingent of Montreal groups tacitly involved in the pursuit of high art for fun times—music that occasionally achieves something exalted, as when it successfully divorces all notions of pretense or theory and sets out to explore.

Marginally associated with the Arcade Fire (and the city’s Anglocentric extended family of musicians, often transplanted from Ontario, B.C. and Nova Scotia), Plants and Animals features singer/guitarists Warren Spicer and Nic Basque and drummer Matthew Woodley. They’re good, and they’ve been playing increasingly more important shows; experiencing them live is definitely something approaching sublime. A promoter writing on (the Internet clubhouse of the Canadian indiegentsia) about their hometown record-release party called Plants and Animals the “beloved local epic pop rock trio.”

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Of the Montreal scene, front man Spicer says, “[It’s] like a really nice community garden. Everyone’s got their little piece of dirt [where] they grow various things, and sometimes you get asked to water someone else’s patch while they’re away, and no doubt they’ll do the same for you.”

Just because smiling is allowed again doesn’t mean that Plants and Animals are dippy jag-offs. It’s the opposite, actually. The band is warmly eclectic, nodding to New Weird America-style psychedelia as often as they do traditional, sometimes-Southern Gothic, guitar rock and baroque fantasy pop. Some maybe-too-familiar church chords and dramatic swells (the Arcade Fire are tough ghosts to exorcise) figure in as well. All of it is comfortably built on a folk- and roots-rock base, which is sort of wild considering the band grew out of some jammy, electroacoustic, music-school nerdery.

These myriad bits and pieces are all referenced on their newest, grandest release, the debut Parc Avenue (an earlier EP is called with/avec; both are sweet nods to bilingual Montreal). In regard to Plants and Animals’ obviously ambitious approach to recording, Spicer says, “We try to be fearless in the studio. No time, no money, no right, no wrong. We usually start with the idea of a song, and in the end, we record a song—the two things being very different.”

This legitimately musical approach to making music (rather than a social one: Crystal Castles are fun and everything, but they can get annoying after a while) confirms the notion that Plants and Animals are, consciously or not, mounting their work on the kind of pre-cool, pro-adventure model we’re all after in the first place, with the Polly Pocket fashion and the bike polo and skateboards. Cultivating exploration is far removed from the too-cool-for-school scenester ethic of a lot of otherwise-comparable bands from major U.S. cities (notably, New York).

Spicer is diplomatic. “The point is to communicate to all kinds of people . . . people who don’t read blogs,” he says. “I can’t really talk about scenes; it’s just too far away. But around Montreal, we hang out with a lot of people and musicians who aren’t looking for the quick fix, next trend, hot-for-a-month kind of bubblegum fluff. People who are into the music and sounds for what they are. And I know a lot of people in Toronto and LA and New York are doing that, too. We’re all the same; we’re all different. Life’s a party.” A message not so hard to get down with after all.

Plants and Animals perform with Northern, Metroid and the Steelwells at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; Fri., 7 p.m. $10.

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