(Polyvinyl/Transgressive; 2014)

By Corey Beasley | 7 August 2014

Toronto, Ontario, Canada. City Hall. A secret room behind the mayor’s office, accessible by pulling on a fake hardcover of Rush’s Neil Peart’s The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa hidden in the mayoral bookshelf. The hidden room is paneled exclusively in RICH, DARK OAK with LEATHER ACCENTS and PLUSH MAROON CARPETING. An enormous desk covered in GOLD LEAF takes up much of the space in the room. DRAKE, 27, a rapper, sits at the desk in an overstuffed chair with a big gold owl on top of it. He wears a purple bathrobe, basketball shorts, and several chains. He looks rather glum.

DRAKE: Bored, man. (From a bowl formerly containing Fruity Pebbles, he picks up a spoon made of solid gold. He stares at it, trying to bend it with his feelings. It does not yield.)

ROB FORD, 45, Mayor of Toronto, enters as the secret door spins. He wears a rumpled grey suit with a red power tie, both of which are soaked in his sweat. He glances around the room nervously, approaching the desk. In his hands he carries a silver platter, covered.

DRAKE: (sighs) Speak, Ford.

FORD: Mr. Mayor, sir, I have the city’s latest cultural offerings for your approval.

DRAKE: Approach. (He beckons.)

(FORD uncovers platter, revealing books and CDs arranged atop a velvet pillow. He sets the platter on the desk and steps backward, standing at attention.)

DRAKE: Explain. (He shuffles through the items, tossing aside a manuscript by Margaret Atwood, a biography of Roy “Shrimp” Worters, and other assorted items.)

FORD: These Toronto-based cultural exports want the city’s seal of approval, sir. You can review and either award them the official endorsement or not. Sir.

DRAKE: (Nodding, he pauses with a CD in hand, staring at its cover.) Identify this disc, Ford.

FORD: That’s the debut album by Alvvays, sir. It’s self-titled, I should mention. They’re a rock band.

(DRAKE slides the CD into a compartment in his desk, and the opening riff of “Adult Diversion” plays on state-of-the-art soundsystem. A simple kick-snare beat propels an interlocking riff from two nearly clean guitars, everything soaked in reverb. Molly Rankin’s vocals dominate the mix, not as dead-eyed as Lana or Sky, but still decidedly disinterested—an appealing tool to carry her lovelorn, self-defacing lyrics.)

DRAKE: Hold up. (He rewinds the track to catch a lyric.) “How do I get close to you / Even if you don’t notice / As I admire you on the subway?” (He clicks play and croons the line over the song.) That’s real, right there. Ford, you ever see the most beautiful woman in the world on the subway with you, and you know she’ll be gone forever in just a few seconds? (Hangs his head.) Damn.

FORD: Our subway system covers 42.4 miles. Haha! (Smiles and fidgets.)

DRAKE: “One more cocktail / And I’m on your trail.” Love how resigned she sounds there. Like, she knows that’s just how it goes. (Scribbles this last rhyme on a notepad for later use.) And the way the guitar hook in the chorus mimics her vocal melody? Straight simple, but I’m like—yeah.

FORD: A fun tune to be sure, sir.

DRAKE: “Tune.” Corny.

FORD: (Sweats.)

(“Archie, Marry Me” kicks in, Rankin’s vocals swooning above jangling guitars. Her dry wit and SAT-approved lyrics—“You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony / You’ve student loans to pay and will not risk the alimony”—stay comfortably on the side of Camera Obscura cleverness rather than toeing into Decemberists preciousness. Any band that can go toe to toe with Camera Obscura, even for just one song, deserves more attention that a stage direction can give. Alas.)

DRAKE: This is the hit, isn’t it?

FORD: (Checking his notes) This is the single, yes, your mayoralness, sir. Do you approve?

(The chorus hits, Rankin making her proposal—“Hey, hey! / Marry me, Archie!“—in a flash of understated, sheer pop bliss, a chorus so immediate you’re sure you’ve heard it before, years back on “120 Minutes” or your college radio station. The melody sticks to the walls of the room, refuses to leave.)

DRAKE: Archie’s lucky, man. What’s he got I don’t? (Flips through a stack of hundreds. When this doesn’t cheer him, he reaches beneath his desk to grab two handfuls of silver dollars from a bucket. DRAKE tosses the silver dollars over his head and lets them fall in a shower of currency.)

FORD: Sir, if I may—don’t get discouraged. It’s the music you’re evaluating, after all.

DRAKE: I said I liked it, didn’t I? (Smashes fist onto desk) What else does this sound like, anyway? You know 40 doesn’t let me listen to shit like this.

FORD: He worries about your palpitations, sir.

DRAKE: Just me, myself, and all my cardiac illness.

FORD: Don’t worry. We don’t have to talk to 40. I can find someone else. Just hold on, sir. (He presses a buzzer on the wall and talks through an intercom.) Deborah? Find me a youth.

(A few moments later, a YOUTH, clad in a barista’s apron, with geometric tattoos on one arm and a scar where a lip ring had been, stumbles into the room. He wears a blindfold.)

YOUTH: Where am I? What’s going on?

FORD: (Reddens, spittle flying from his mouth. Yelling.) CALM YOURSELF. You’re here to help your CITY, you vapid SHITWIT.

DRAKE: Easy, man, easy.

YOUTH: Who’s that? I recognize that voice.

FORD: QUIET. Listen to this music. (He plays a few tracks, “The Agency Group,” “Ones Who Love You,” and “Dives”. The YOUTH listens, shuffling from one foot to another. He seems vaguely frightened, but the music calms him.) Now, what other rock’n’roll bands do these tunes resemble?

YOUTH: “Tunes.” Corny. I don’t know, man—it’s good, but it sounds like every other guitar-pop band with a synth or a drum machine out there right now. It doesn’t not sound like Real Estate or DIIV or Smith Westerns or any of that stuff. But see, I hate those bands. Cheesy, easy-breezy bullshit. Somehow, this is…better. Way better. Maybe it’s the chick’s voice? Something about how her vocals elevate the music behind it, which is all fairly simple, lots of high-necked melodies. Basic structures, verse-chorus-verse, bridge where the music drops out for a few measures, chorus. If it ain’t broke, et cetera.

FORD: All right, that’s enough. Back to your Cultural Studies program. (He pushes the YOUTH through the spinning secret door.)

YOUTH: How’d you know—(Exits.)

DRAKE: Was dude saying shit sounds like everything else out there? I can’t put the Toronto stamp on that shit if it isn’t pure gold, you feel?

FORD: No, of course, I understand. But—

(A knock on the door. FORD and DRAKE share a confused look. The door spins open, and GEDDY LEE, 60, musician, walks into the room. His hair has been recently conditioned.)

LEE: What’s shaking, fellow Torontonians? My sixth sense told me you were discussing prodigal talent in musicianship. I’m just stopping by to tell you—hey! Not everyone can be a Neil Peart. If you’re writing solid songs, you don’t have to be the best drummer or bassist or singer in the world. Pop music is hard! Reinventing pop music is even harder. So, if it hooks you, enjoy it. That’s my advice. Take care, now! (Laughs heartily, and exits.)

DRAKE: Man’s got a point.

FORD: You’re feeling better about the album, then, sir? Do you want to give Alvvays Toronto’s full approval?

DRAKE: I’m almost there. I’m waiting for one more push, one song you just can’t argue with, you know? Unfuckwithable. Also, Ford, I’m hungry.

(At the sound of that last word, ABEL TESFAYE, 24, musician, enters. He bends at the waist and averts his eyes from DRAKE, staying in this posture as he walks to the desk to deliver a Rueben. He dares not speak. Sandwich delivered, he withdraws into the darkness. DRAKE chews.)

FORD: I think I have just what you ordered. (He plays “Party Police,” a perfect piece of downcast power-pop, its adolescent longing achingly communicated through Rankin’s best vocal performance on the record, matched with her most intuitive hooks. “You don’t have to leave,” she sings, “You could just stay here with me / Forget all the party police,” the chorus’s melody an inch shy of monotone and heartbreaking in its simplicity.)

DRAKE: Party police. Damn—I know those types, always watching you with your girl, ready to snitch or sell your picture to the paparazzi if y’all go upstairs or leave together. Keeping people from being happy. Jealous, man, always so jealous of what you got. And if you let them dictate? They win, and you go home alone. Shit’s real.

FORD: I thought you’d approve, sir. It’s the best pop song I’ve heard in ages. (He smiles, clearly pleased with himself.)

(CARLOS DELGADO, 42, baseball player, enters, wearing a Toronto Blue Jays jersey and carrying a baseball bat. FORD bows to him, shocked.)

DELGADO: Let me tell you, boys, and I should know—that track is a home run. (He swings the bat in a perfect arc, looking out into the middle distance at an imaginary grand slam. He tips his cap and leaves.)

DRAKE: This is going on for too long, isn’t it?

FORD: Absolutely. Should we wrap it up?

DRAKE: Yeah. Alvvays gets the Toronto stamp. Makes me proud of that north north, that up top.

FORD: (lights and smokes 20 cigarettes at once)

DRAKE: I hate this job.