The Heavy Blinkers
The Night & I Are Still So Young
By Scott Reid | 6 April 2004
I’ve reviewed a handful of Heavy Blinkers albums in the past few years and they all seem to start out the same way. Though the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks influence has never been anything less than turned to ten from their debut Hooray For Everything to this, their fourth full length, if it’s starting to get old for me to write entire reviews based around the similarities between to the two, I can only imagine how it feels for the band.
Though this Halifax, Nova Scotia based five-piece don’t make their love of Wilson — or Burt Bacharach, Randy Nilsson and the aforementioned Van Dyke Parks for that matter — out to be something to be kept a secret, they at least have the sense to make it clear that they’re following in the footsteps of the best pop songwriter and producer of all time instead of pussyfooting around it. You know, like pretty much every other indie/mainstream pop-rock/chamber pop group that have been surfacing since Today and Pet Sounds proved the group to be more than just esoteric surfer boys and their second golden era, from ’67-‘71 (Smile/Smiley Smile to Surf’s Up), proved them capable of so much more than they had originally been given credit for.
And there I go again. But this time around I’ve made a pact with myself. To look at this album, to describe its incredibly catchy and saccharine twelve tracks as, amazingly enough, the new Heavy Blinkers album, not as a faceless Beach Boys homage. It just seems too lazy to merely say "The Night & I Are Still So Young continues in the band’s adoption of post-Pet Sounds production techniques" since there is — and always has been — so much more to this group than these kind of comparisons let on. Many groups have stolen from the Wilson vaults as much as, if not more in some cases, the Blinkers and have yet to release an album half as enveloping as Better Weather or as effortlessly diverse as their eponymous sophomore release. It gets to the point where I could probably buy a stamp that said "I hope for your sake Brian Wilson never hears this" and make my job a whole lot easier. So lets not confuse the Heavy Blinkers with just another group hopping the most crowded bandwagon this side of the UK, where I’m sure the "Lennon is spinning his grave" stamps are worn to the handle.
So now, with that
rather pointless introduction out of the way, lets get to it. Their first
record for Endearing (a Canadian label based out of Winnipeg), The Night
continues in the path of the group’s previous sweet-as-pure-sugar path;
and, once again, the result is an album that is mostly irresistible. They
waste no time rolling out the large arrangements, either; nearly all tracks
are adorned with a beautifully plush production, from orchestral passages
to blaring trumpets to, as album highlight "In The Morning" proves,
just piano, bass and their full-group harmonies.
Ruth Minnikin also returns with an even bigger prominence (her voice had made previous songs like "I Used to Be a Design" and "Weight That Can’t Be Carried" as affecting as they were). Her incredible voice is prominent on many of the album’s best tracks — "Mother Dear," "Gentle Strength," "Fall On My Sword" and the album’s most impressive achievement, "The Night & I Are Still So Young" — and, not to take anything away from Jason or Andrew who create some of the record’s best harmonies, has the ability to cut through arrangements that are even this dense and intriguing.
Although at times the record might sound similar to the saccharin lounge-pop of Sondre Lerche, who is admittedly a big fan of the Blinkers, the band never offer us anything close to the outright boredom that made Two Way Monologue such a disappointment after the extremely promising Faces Down. And even though several of these songs do across as being a little too campy — "Unseasonably Sad," "Try Telling That To My Baby" and "Silver Crown" (which starts off like a soft-rock AM hit back in the early ’80s, which I mean in the nicest possible way), for example — they only temporarily derail the record’s real strengths. So while Night isn’t the completely consistent album the Blinkers have been struggling with since their debut, it is the closest they’ve come yet, even with the lack of an incredible standout like "I Used to Be a Design" or "Rise and Glide" (though, to be fair, the title track and "Mother Dear" come awfully close).
All in all, though it follows much in the vein of their previous records and really isn’t much of a departure, Night is far from a superfluous retread. The consistency of its tracks — by which I mean not the songwriting itself so much as the general feel and aesthetic approach of each song — is much greater than the all-over-the-map feel of Better Weather (it might be hard to imagine "I Used To Be a Design" and "Far As You Are" on the same record, but there you go), making it much more of a realized song-cycle. The Night just goes to further prove the group as much more than the mere sum of their influences; anybody could just adopt a familiar style and run with it, but it takes a real talent to make the extremely familiar exciting again and, for the forth time in a row, the Heavy Blinkers have pulled it off.