Canada’s recent, documented-to-death tendency of producing fine musical treats is not restricted to Broken Social Scene and the brilliant Arcade Fire. Patrick Watson and his eponymous band – who, like Arcade Fire, originate from Montreal – aren’t quite stadium-sized, but they’re no less deserving of attention. Accordingly, they’ve received it.
While Arcade Fire have grabbed the limelight and awards, Patrick Watson and his band – comprised of bassist Mishka Stein, guitarist Simon Angell and drummer Robbie Kuster – toured the world for five long years in support of their last two critically-acclaimed and successful albums, one of which was the 2007 Polaris Award-winning Close To Paradise.
After playing live for such a long period of time, Watson and the band decided to go back to basics and “make the kind of music we would want to listen to at home”. And their fourth album, entitled Adventures In Your Own Backyard, does exactly that. In fact, the idea behind Watson’s fourth LP is not too dissimilar to the one behind Arcade Fire’s Grammy Award-wining The Suburbs, but that’s where the similarities end.
The album’s title is a nod to the fact that it was recorded almost entirely in Watson’s apartment in Montreal, unlike the band’s previous efforts. Lead single Into Giants is an early indication of Watson’s direction for the new record, with its sweeping beauty providing a wistful and comforting atmosphere. Watson’s stunning Jeff Buckley-esque falsetto vocal is delicately balanced with an ensemble of voices in a folksy harmony, as he sings: “Started out as lovers don’t know where it’s going to end.”
It’s an apt leading single for Adventures In Your Own Backyard, showing off the qualities in Watson’s vocal, as well as highlighting the band’s elegant and woozy sound. There is clearly a shift to a more subtle and beguiling sound than that of third album, 2009‘s Wooden Arms, which never really grabbed the listener like Watson’s award-winning sophomore release.
The fourth album is by no means instant, but it does invite the listener in to a quaint, dreamy world. Opening track Lighthouse draws you in with its gorgeous, intoxicating piano melody, which runs throughout the song until it reaches its euphoric conclusion, while the evocative Blackwind features a wonderful – if slightly twee – melody, one that is both patient and soothing. As the song progresses, the shuffling beat and jaunty piano adds to its unequivocal charm.
This is very much an intimate album, not doing anything particularly extravagant, but instead resting on simple, effective arrangements that perfectly capture the original idea. “It’s a comforting feeling with you by my side,” sings Watson on Words In The Fire, a song that shows off the quality of his wavering vocals. It’s followed by four-minute instrumental The Things You Do, a carefully crafted, cinematic song reminiscent of Watson’s previous work with The Cinematic Orchestra. The standout track on the album, though, is undoubtedly the euphoric title track, featuring an enchanting concoction of instruments which build towards a momentous finish.
While there is a lot to love about Watson’s fourth album, there are several throwaway tracks that don’t contribute much. Album closer Swimming Pools – another instrumental – and Noisy Sunday are both a bit sparse for their own good, doing very little during their running time to merit inclusion. However, for the most part, Adventures… is an accomplished album, one which makes the most out of not over-complicating things. And in doing so, it allows you to sit back and immerse yourself in its gloriously ethereal soundscape.