Sloan have a lot to answer for. The band played a key role in the so called Halifax Pop Explosion in the early 90s, alongside the likes of Plumtree, The Super Friendz and Jale amongst others, bringing indie-rock into the ears of the greater Canadian public.
27 years later, now based in Toronto, they have 30 singles under their belts, their sound can be heard in countless Canadian acts and they are respected as once of Canada’s top bands of all time according to a recent CBC Critics poll. On their enigmatically titled twelfth album 12 they show exact why.
Since their inception, the four members of Sloan have always shared song-writing and vocal duties, each developing their own signature sound within the bands repertoire. Last album Commonwealth saw each member take a side of vinyl each. Like many of Sloan’s albums, 12 reacts against what came before. Guitarist Jay Ferguson has stated that “Whereas that album was more of everyone retreating to corners….this one would potentially have more collaboration than usual”. The result is a band that sounds reinvigorated, using their experience and familiarity to bring out the best in each other, and their respective songs. Once again, the band split songwriting duties down the middle, with each taking 3 songs each. While this approach could lead to a disjointed sound, Sloan’s skill is to tie it all together into a cohesive whole.
Opener "Spin Our Wheels" is a perfect indication of what is to unfold over the next 40 minutes. Precision honed power-pop, tight vocal harmonies, a big chorus, and a melody line to stick in your head for days. Instantly familiar, with a timelessly classic style, it’s Chris Murphy writ large. Patrick Pentland’s "All Of The Voices" follows, a crunchy rocker with liberal use of flanger that throws back to the bands early years, where Pentland added the noisier elements of their sound. He also harks back to that on the charging "The Day Will Be Mine", throwing in an epic guitar solo for good measure. Again, it feels like an instant power-pop classic, and seems destined for a thousand summer road-trip mixtapes.
If Pentland represents the crunchier side of Sloan’s output, then Jay Ferguson has proved himself to be the master of jangle. His trademark chiming guitars are all over the whimsical "Right To Roam", a track inspired by a visit to a wedding in the UK, where he first heard of the UK’s Right To Roam laws. Evidently the phrase caught his ear, and resulted in something of a UK travelogue that takes in Conwy Castle, and prominently features Brighton Dome in the chorus.
On "Year Zero", Andrew Scott provides one of the records most insistent guitar lines, but its his other contributions to the record that stand out. Shifting the pace of the record, "Gone for Good", brings a spacey, forlorn tone to its tale of a marriage breakdown. Breaking out the acoustic guitars, the track feels looser than its surroundings, and perfectly channels CSN era Crosby Stills and Nash. This melancholy, cosmic-folk sound continues into album closer "44 Teenagers", before resolving in its second part with an epic crunch. Scott has categorised it as an “Ode to the teenager”, embracing both the resilience and ability to cope with tragedy (Scott’s father passed away when he was 14, and the song also name-checks the passing of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, whose son is schoolmates with Scott’s daughter.), as well as the vast array of possibilities for the future - as the song says “Climbing out of the teenage/welcome back to round two/everyday is a blank page/turning faster than you”
Few bands that have been together for almost 30 years are capable of producing such consistently excellent work. There is a refusal to rest on any laurels here, and as a result 12 is a record that can sit comfortable alongside their most beloved albums. Quite why their brand of effortlessly delivered power-pop hasn’t taken hold outside of Canada remains a mystery, but anyone with an ear for a catchy melody, a sing along chorus and a chiming guitar will find plenty to love here.