Pilate. They are, by far, the greatest band you've never heard of.
I'm about to wax lyrical about them in what most people would describe as a shameless act of promotion in the guise of a review. This, however, is my column, and I'll cry if I want to.
Pilate are a relatively new Canadian outfit, which is the main reason for their all too apparent anonymity within the UK (anywhere outside Canada, in fact).
I chanced upon them on a visit to Toronto in December 2003, catching their breakthrough video Into Your Hideout (comparable to Radiohead's There, There in a visual sense) during a channel-hopping session on Canadian cable TV. I was interested, but not overtly so, and only decided to pick up their debut disc Caught By The Window when I saw it for a mere $9.99 (that being £5 to us Limeys).
What are the best conditions to investigate a new album? Can you achieve a higher state of appreciation by using it as a soundtrack to the chores? Or are you better off putting all things aside and sitting through it intently for an entire afternoon? I had little choice, as it turned out, what with being stuck on a trans-Atlantic flight for 7 hours with only my CD player as company. If memory serves, I managed to fit in a minimum of 5 repeat listens between a miniscule, microwaved "beef stew" and the crack of dawn performance of Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Needless to say, I was utterly transfixed.
At the time I knew next to nothing about Pilate, other than that they were Canadian and very, very new. I know now that their beating heart is lead singer and lyricist Todd Clark - a New Zealand-born university music student. Viola and violin-trained bassist Ruby Bumrah was drafted in with the use of an internet ad, and was quickly followed by guitarist Chris Greenough, who in turn brought fellow art student and drummer Bill Keeley into the fold.
A homemade. 6-track EP entitled For All That's Given, Wasted started chins wagging in 2002, gradually earning the band increasingly prestigious club slots in the Toronto area. They even supported UK outfit Alfie, thoroughly upstaging them in the process. The EP (subsequently re-released by MapleMusic due to popular demand) was in itself a combination of the two musical staples - melody and melancholy - and provided several songs that proved so strong that they earned slots on the full-length debut. The EP, however, is not my concern here.
Caught By The Window is epic in the same way Parachutes was: Carefully constructed soundscapes; sensitive to a fault; lyrically poignant. It's a remarkable, sadness-tinted journey, from the blind, cave-like reverb on Endgame through to the nurtured confusion Out On My Feet (complete with Pink Floyd-style schoolyard singing).
Following Endgame's approximate sense of loss (bravely experimental for an opening track), Melt Into The Walls takes the reigns with the kind of pretty riffing and soaring vocals you'd imagine Matt Bellamy to exhibit if he were deprived of his gadgets. "Your time has run out", pours Clark, unleashing a torrent of heartbreak that sustains for the entirety of the album. Into Your Hideout follows, its tragic sentiment ("I stole into your hideout / And it's cold there now") entwined with a Doves-esque chord progression and dreamy middle eighth.
Events subsequently turn ever-so-slightly folkish with the banjo-driven Mercy, which, like most other tracks, crescendos slowly but thoroughly, culminating with pedal-down guitar melodies and point-of-breaking vocals that make you shiver with excitement. Fall Down adheres to the principle with minutes of near-silence minimalism, gradually upping the volume and peaking with poetic highlights:
"It's a secret that's unspoken / It was the cause of all your tears / We'd rip the night wide open / It was the morning that we feared / There's glass upon this playground / There's cocaine in your church / Is there water in this desert / Is there water in this desert?"
No song packs the emotional punch of Alright, though. It takes the crescendo formula to an entirely new level, layering with progressive emotion from a beautiful, classic-sounding, top-string melody to crashing overdrive; from "Tonight I lack the strength to even move" to an exhausted, conclusive "You'll make it, somehow" via 5 minutes of almost unbearable intensity. If Caught By The Window has a selling point, this is it.
The remainder of the album remarkably steers clear of the kind of emotional hangover often induced by tracks of Alright's stature. Overrated runs along like an REM track played too quickly, standing out for its defiant tone rather than Pilate's more usual forlorn nature. Travel Song, moreover, sits cautiously optimistic sentiment on top of an inspired acoustic melody, relating a narrative of memory-turned-hope. Out On My Feet enjoys the album's most progressive moment with a children's choir, who, as in days long gone, bring an incredible sense of poignancy to existential lyrics. Reprise, an overdriven interpretation of the echoing opener Endgame, provides the last moments with fist-in-the-air exuberance.
As I said at the beginning, I cannot recommend Caught By The Window highly enough. It is every bit as good as Parachutes, blending elements of Chris Martin's motley crew along with prime cuts of REM, Doves, Radiohead and probably a few more for good measure. Keep an eye out for some plugging in the near future (unless the world decides that justice simply isn't inkeeping with the spirit of the 21st century), but in the meantime treat yourself to an import copy of Caught By The Window, courtesy of our good friends at Amazon. Thank you for reading.