Land of Talk
Applause Cheer Boo Hiss
The Rebel Group
emales have always played a large part in popular music—be it as performers or as man’s perpetual muse. Elizabeth Powell, lead singer of Land of Talk, I suspect, would fit both categories. On one hand, her raw, vulnerable vocals suggest she could solicit a hundred songs from a handful of suitors, yet, when ratcheted up a notch, her voice rings with its own stinging retorts.
Montreal based—but bearing none of that city’s exported musical excess—Land of Talk is a taut three-piece featuring Powell on guitar, backed by bass and drums. The music is rudimentary rock—down strummed guitars interspersed with some intricate finger play, backed by a competent and complementary rhythm section. At times it recalls the tense, melodic music Buffalo Tom once proffered, that is, if they were peppy teenagers. Not that Land of Talk are as youthful as their musical exuberance makes them sound. Powell has been performing in some capacity since 1997, making her more than qualified to cue up lines of caustic wit that belie the naivety of youth such as “Look at those girls, so young / So young, still piss their pants.”
Applause Cheer Boo Hiss runs close to 30 minutes and, although the music gets tiresome, Powell’s vocals keep tugging on your ear like an anachronistic school teacher. She mumbles. She stretches her vowels. She drops consonants. Syllables are strung out, and sometimes slide away altogether. They are at once swooping, vulnerable, and strong, yet there’s a constant lack of enunciation that enhances the elementary nature of the voice, morphing it from an empty vessel for sentimental schmaltz into another layer of instrumentation. Ranging from a confident cock-rock Cat Power (“Speak to Me Bones’) to a more playful PJ Harvey (“Breaxxbaxx”), Powell is part punk rocker, part precocious little girl angrily asking for her doll with an added ‘pwease.’
While it’s hard to make out much of what Powell is actually saying, the enthusiasm put forth by the band is hard to miss. Opener, “Speak to Me Bones,” sears with vitriolic intensity. “Summer Special” bounds along like an East Coast summer—light and airy, but with a humid heaviness that casts a stormy shadow over the staccato guitar playing. And while the music is simple, there are moments within each song that stand out; the fiery final 30 seconds of “Speak to Me Bones,” the languid opening of “Sea Foam,” and the frenetic instrumentation that flits in and out of the distorted “All My Friends,” to name but a few.
Much ballyhooed in the blogosphere, this EP has been making the rounds since late last year, yet has only recently received a US release. And while it’s easy to see how Powell’s vocals can captivate an audience, the music it sits atop of, more often than not, decides to settle for second best rather than battling it out for equal billing—a crunchy but bland salad to Powell’s rich, zingy dressing.
This limited range is rectified with the band’s final song, “Street Wheels.” Sounding like it was recorded in a lava lamp—such are the ebbs and flows—it is slow, sweet, and echoed with a dash of intermittent feedback that suggests a scope not found elsewhere on the EP. Which begs the question: can Land of Talk extend this formula over a full album, or a even a career for that matter? Then again, after ten years of trying, maybe Powell just doesn’t care about the future. As she confidently re-iterates at the end of “Speak to Me Bones”—“What about / What about / What about / What about / Right now / Right now?”
Reviewed by: Kevin Pearson
Reviewed on: 2007-07-03