It’s hard to believe Said The Whale is only (barely) five years into its existence… It feels like I just heard the uber-catchy “Camilo (The Magician)” on the radio for the first time. It’s now a modern Canadian rock/alternative radio staple.
Said The Whale hearts Vancouver, and vice versa. Considering the extent to which Vancouver unashamedly loves itself, writing songs about loving the said city and the surrounding region is a sure bet. Said The Whale has done that, and they’ve done it well. If the Tragically Hip is Canada’s band, Said The Whale has staked its claim to be BC’s. But with Little Mountain, they’ve broadened their horizons. Not every single song is a gushing ode to Vancouver or the West Coast – a lot of them aren’t, in fact – and that’s a good thing.
While previous releases often seemed to be about how freaking awesome it was to live on the epically beautiful West Coast, Little Mountain speaks (quite literally) of “waving goodbye to Vancouver”, “my city, my lover, my friend” on “Big Wave Goodbye”; hence, how the mountain became little. Beyond “Goodbye”, shout-outs to the group’s beloved stomping ground can still be found here and there – like in their video for “O Alexandra” – but now you get the sense that there’s a world beyond the mountain range. The bittersweet farewell to Vancouver melds into “Jesse, AR” about a guy resetting his life, moving to Edmonton, falling in love, and bringing his baby back to Arkansas, only to vanish once again. They also turn their lens toward Montana in the sentimental and pastoral “Big Sky, MT”, which sounds like its title – huge. The very mention of these new places adds mystery and gives a fresh spin to Said The Whale’s familiar sound. Perhaps this is a result of the group’s first U.S. tour in the spring of 2011. Sure, they stuck to the West Coast on their way to and from their destination, but their destination was Austin’s world-renowned SXSW Music Festival. Such a journey can only result in growth, and this comes through not only in the lyrics of Little Mountain, but the music itself.
Little Mountain is Said The Whale’s most balanced offering yet, from the catchy rock-stomp of “Heavy Ceiling” to the upbeat “Loveless” that contains one of the best lines I’ve heard in a while – “How could I love you less now that I know you more?” It’ll be stuck in my head for a while and I’m okay with that. There’s a lot of searching and finding, arriving and leaving on Little Mountain. Despite some disconcerting lyrics that could easily make one sigh hopelessly – like “We Are 1980” (“Paperless here is a thing of the past / I’m cutting down trees and using up gas”) – the album as a whole emits a distinct positivity and makes for an enjoyable listen. One of the highlights is definitely the fun and humble “Lucky”, which finds the gang singing “We are lucky and we know it / We clap our hands to show it.” And yes, they clap their hands. Reading that, it seems glib, but it really isn’t. You’ll want to clap your hands, too.
If anything, I’d like to hear more of Ben Worcester’s energetic voice, which is at times reminiscent of Ben Folds (the closing “Seasons”) or a young Luke Doucet that hasn’t mellowed out yet, but that’s just me. That said, the album does achieve a good balance between songs featuring Worcester, and those showcasing the poppier, teenaged croon of co-frontman Tyler Bancroft.
It’s clear that Canada, let alone BC, loves Said The Whale – they did win a Juno Award in 2011 for New Group of the Year, after all. That’s not to say the Great White North has been conquered; like any young up-and-coming Canadian outfit, they’re many years away from cementing themselves as household names, but they seem to be on their way. The confidence present on Little Mountain gives the impression that they’re more than ready to cross the border and stick some more flags in our southern neighbour’s ground.
Little Mountain comes out March 6. The band kicks off their tour in Portland this weekend. They’ll be at the Vogue Theatre on May 3, supported by Chains of Love and Oh No! Yoko. Check out www.saidthewhale.com for more info and other cool stuff, including videos for four (and soon to be more) of the fifteen tracks on Little Mountain.