Monday, 6 March 2017

Album Review: Leonard by Deforesters (by Robyn Pierce)

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was asked to review Deforesters’ first full-length album ‘Leonard’. I’d seen some discussion online about their 2014 EP ‘Bones’, which seemed to be well-received (they also released a self-titled EP in 2016), but I can’t say that I knew the band very well. After one listen I was completely sold on this album and ashamed that past-Robyn hadn’t given Deforesters the time and attention they deserved. ‘Leonard’ could easily have the staying power to make my top ten albums for 2017. I was hooked right from the folksy opening ukulele chords of the ‘Obligatory Cutesy Intro’, which celebrates the crusty barroom singalong as much as it gently mock it, to the band’s final avowal that they ‘wouldn’t trade’ all the ‘douchebags’, ‘crackheads’, and ‘assholes’ of Toronto for anything. I also couldn’t help but be charmed by the fact that this band of slightly self-deprecating bros decided to name their first full-length the same way they’d name their first child. If ‘Leonard’ were a person, he’d probably be that kid from the down the block who offers to help the elderly with their groceries so that he can sneak some bottles from their liquor cabinets.

After the cutesy opening, the second track ‘A Song For All the Reptoids of Denver International Airport to Sing’ jolts you out of your folk reverie with soaring guitars before kicking into a super catchy chorus. It’s one of those songs you’re singing along to before it’s even reached the end, belting out ‘If you’re not sleeping, then I’m not sleeping, then I’m not sleeping at all’ (I can’t even type these lyrics without bobbing my head from side to side). It’s a great opening track (it was also the first song on last year’s EP) that immediately puts you in a party mood. The next song ‘I’ll Take the Crab Juice’ is the first track that made me want to describe this band as Americana, like I might describe The Gaslight Anthem or The Menzingers, as it has a little bit of that folk/bluegrass/country-rock fusion feel. But, Deforesters are a Toronto band. Of their Canadian brethren, they fit in best with Pkew Pkew Pkew and The Flatliners (‘Leonard’ is actually produced by Steve Rizrun, who worked on multiple records for The Flatliners), but Deforesters sound more American-esque to me. Perhaps we could label them as Canadiana? I don’t think the band would mind, since their Facebook page lists their genre as Douchecore.

The fourth track of the album, ‘Zesty Mordant’, begins with some twangy guitar picking before coming in quickly with some thicker chords and vocals. I like the heavy vocals that are brought in here; they aren’t overused and give way to a sweeter, more poppy chorus. ‘Is This a God Damn’ is another song that had me bopping. It’s a clap-along which cheerfully reminds us that ‘in the end, we all die’. If the song titles didn’t tip you off, these guys don’t take themselves too seriously and compel you to do the same. Did I think I’d be gleefully singing about human mortality and the finality of death when I started listening to this album? No, but I was glad to do it once the opportunity came around. That stuff isn’t going away, and singing fun songs about it can only help. I found myself nodding in agreement with the lyrics ‘And I might not be happy, but I’m honest and I’d rather face these painful truths than swallow an easy lie’ - an appropriate sentiment in the era of post-truth. ‘The Topiary Animals are Telling Me to Do Terrible Things’, is possibly my favourite song (it’s another EP import, coming off of ‘Bones’). It begins with a glorious drum kick and some sumptuous guitar that makes you want to jive, splitting the singing between smoother and heavier vocals. ‘Exercise in Futility’ delivers more catchy vocals but lets the bass come to forefront. By this point in the album I am in full party mode and ready to see what Deforesters have to throw at me next.

‘Air out Your Stinkables’ maintains the energy of the album, although it’s a solemn track that attempts to deal with lost love. This song and the one that follows it, ‘Clever Song Title’ (hehe), are both a little more serious (despite what that the song titles suggest) and showcase the band’s vocals. I prefer ‘Clever Song Title’ with its awesome ‘Where do we go from here?’ refrain. ‘What Do You Want on Your Tombstone’ changes tactics slightly, with some palm muting and a reverie-fuelled melody that begins with ‘I had a dream’. It’s a welcome shift that stops the album from feeling too same-y. Track 11 is called ‘This is Gibsonton not Gainesville’, which made me chuckle because this band has such a Gainesville-esque sound. Or, I suppose, they have a Fest sound and could be described as Orgcore. In this song, the band slows down and gets heavier, despite it being a very short track. I like the production on the gang vocals here, which are given a thicker resonance to fill out the sound. ‘Snow Line’ is my second pick for potential favourite song. It’s another solemn, gang vocal driven track; the sort of song that a band will pull out at the end of their set for everyone to sing along to. It’s a song, in part, about getting through the difficult times together, as friends and as a community: ‘It looks like Winter’s sticking around, can we hang on? . . . We’re all buried deep, deep down.’ I hope that if I’m ever able to see Deforester that they play this, and I can lend my emotionally-charged voice to the chorus. I mentioned the last track, ‘Municipal Geography Lesson’, at the beginning of this review. Here the guys get a little cheeky again, but it’s really a sentimental track that pays tribute to every lovable ‘asshole’ in their shared geographic area.

Deforesters are a class act, dishing out deliciously sweet melodies with one superb hook after another and gang vocals for days. This band and this album are comically charming and instantly lovable. Some albums take a few listens before you get into them, but this felt easy and immediate. I’ve learnt from my mistake. I won’t miss an opportunity to rock out to the Deforesters ever again.

Stream and download Leonard here:

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This review was written by Robyn Pierce.