It’s been said a number of times in recent months but seriously, the amount of good music coming out of Canada these days is remarkable. There’s plenty of indie rock from obvious quarters such as Arcade Fire, but there’s also a poppier side. Tokyo Police Club and The New Pornographers are prime examples of bands that focus more on catchy pop hooks and The Elwins probably sit somewhere alongside these two.
Hailing from Ontario, the band initially began as a duo when high school chums Matthew Sweeney (guitar/vocals) and Travis Stokl (drums) took to talent shows as a first step. A couple of group members later, they’re now a jerk chicken loving quartet that have even had band underwear manufactured for sale. The debut album And I Thank You surfaced in 2012 with standout effort Stuck In The Middle proving to be more of a typical indie guitar band effort than the songs contained within Play For Keeps, where the focus is firmly placed on catchiness.
First single So Down Low is one such hideously catchy cut; simple guitar chords open the number alongside vocals before a burst of life is breathed into the song for its bouncy, sing-along chorus between the slower, less intrusive verses. Opening track Bubble is even more of an instant delight, its sugary sweet chorus of “You get me high like a bubble, I know I’m asking for trou-u-u-u-ble”, likely to get stuck in your head to the extent that you can’t actually get rid of it even when you want to.
Away Too Long has more bounce than a trampoline, its boppy guitar riff and keyboard melody sounding particularly candy-coated. It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over is another slow versed effort followed by a faster, catchy chorus and the staccato synth line of Show Me How To Move leads to another easily recalled chorus. And sometimes there’s a glimmer of something just a little different from the tried and trusted formula; the intriguing Sexual Intellectual, for example, boasts a uniquely falsetto bridge before launching into possibly one of the best choruses of all.
The catchiness doesn’t always come off though, with little substance fleshing out the bones: Off The Wall finds itself based solely around an average guitar riff whilst Bringing Out The Shoulders relies heavily on a short burst of a chorus. And the initially highly pleasing Backing Up summarises the whole album all by itself: minimalist verses lead to the usual contagious chorus but the lyrics of “Everything’s backing up…there ain’t nothing I can do” not only contains a dreaded double negative but if you happen to be sat in a customary M25 traffic jam on a hot day it’s an unwelcome jibe. In fact, it’ll probably have you tearing the CD – nay, the entire CD player – out of the dashboard before hurling it out of the window with enough force to maim an elephant, erm, not that you’ll find one on that particular stretch of highway.
In short, Play For Keeps should come with a warning. Not the usual ‘Parental Advisory Explicit Content’ that tends to be plastered over the occasional album cover where the contents might contain the odd ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’, but one that should say something like, ‘General Advisory Potentially Irritative Content’. Because as hideously enjoyable the tracks instantly are, you can’t help but wonder if the enjoyment will at some point turn to annoyance; until that moment arrives, though, give yourself a well needed boost before spring finally arrives.