Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Album Review: City Of Strangers by Five Minute Major (by Emma Prew)

Five Minute Major are a four-piece, once upon a time acoustic but now more of a straight up folk punk, band from Montreal, Canada. The band was formed by longtime friends Francis Morelli and Frank J Leonard back in 2013 and now have the addition of Justin Judd and Matthew Leduc – the latter being the newest addition, bringing drums to the Five Minute Major sound for the first time on their third album. City Of Strangers is the title of that third album and it was released back in January on Leamel Music. This was another random Bandcamp find for me but I liked it more than enough to give it a review.

The first track is titled Cabin In The Woods and uses the sound of cracking open a beer to signify that City Of Strangers is off with a bang. This is immediately followed by an acoustic guitar and before too long we are treated to a bit of harmonica as well – I’m a sucker for a bit of harmonica. When the vocals come in they are gruff and plenty ragged around the edges, in a good way. Cabin In The Woods is about feeling like you don’t fit in in the wider world but being able to find comfort and happiness with just a few close friends, and some beers, around you – in a [maybe metaphorical, maybe actual] cabin in the woods. Next up is Parting Ways Part III (note: there isn’t actually a Parting Ways Part I or II) which kicks off with some warm acoustic guitar playing that is subtly backed up by the drums, or well it sort sounds like a tambourine to me but I guess it is the drums! This is a rousing acoustic punk anthem – featuring multiple vocalists in true punk rock singalong style – about parting ways with someone who is important to you but hoping that by writing a song about it they will be able to be reminded of you whenever they hear it. It’s a sad song wrapped up in a feel-good attitude. ‘And when night time comes around, I'll be humming this song, But when you'll hear that empty sound, I hope you keep these words, So they can remind you of me.’ Certainly one of my favourites on the album.

Burning City is the third track of City Of Strangers and it begins with some sombre yet nostalgic thank yous to an old friend ‘For all the good and bad things we've done.’ Now, since the first song on this album, I’ve been thinking that Five Minute Major sound like someone and by this third track I’m finally able to put my finger on it. Five Minute Major remind me of New York’s MakeWar or, perhaps even more so, their earlier and more acoustic-based incarnation of Sad And French. MakeWar/Sad And French are not actually French but there’s a verse in Burning City that is sung in French – the band being French-Canadian and all. I don’t understand French but it doesn’t affect my enjoyment of this wistful acoustic tune – plus there’s more harmonica. If Burning City was a sad song, this next song is simply heartbreaking. Father Of The Year is the fourth song on the album and it is about a father who is the exact opposite of father of the year. The song is clearly full of anger, and rightly so given the situation, which is passionately conveyed in the lyrics of the song. ‘I got hundreds of problems, You don't see me run, Now I face future like a loaded gun, My world went completely upside down, When you abandoned the ones you love at the train station.’ The main message that I took from this song is that although these circumstances have been painful to go through – and still are, inside if not so obvious on the outside – the author knows that they will always try their best to deal with whatever life throws at them rather than running away, like a certain father did.

The shortest song on City Of Strangers is Marmen at less than two minutes in length and, I must admit, that I’m at a loss to explain what this song is about. Musically the song has a wistful almost Western-like guitar intro before the vocals kick in and are full-on snarling anti-folk. The song only features two verses but the shouts of ‘Marmen! Marmen!’ that play out the song will be stuck in your head for days nonetheless. I did a quick Google search, as I often do when I’m not sure what the main word in a song means, and discovered that Marmen Inc. is a machine manufacturer located halfway between Quebec City and Montreal – they make wind turbines. This doesn’t really help me in figuring out exactly what the song is about but I am still singing ‘Marmen! Marmen!’ to myself so nevermind, eh? The next song is the most full-band sounding song yet with the drums sounding ever more prominent alongside the acoustic guitars. Trophy Kids is a song about thinking or worrying too much about whether what you’re doing in your life is good enough, always trying hard but knowing that the expectation is for you to try even harder. It’s certainly something that I’m sure many of us can relate to and I think that just knowing that you’re not alone is a comfort. The whole song is great but I particularly enjoyed the bridge which, alongside a melodic guitar melody, features some slightly odd, slightly Beach Boys-esque background ‘Ooh-oohs’ while the main vocal remains raspy – ‘I don't sleep anymore, can't stop the howls, When raised by wolves, bit by the man, When you grow up, I expect you to be, to be nothing at all.’

M.I.A. is a love song of sorts about a girl called Mia – rather than being an abbreviation for someone ‘missing in action’. The song features a great exchanging of vocals between two different singers that make me think the subject of this song is more than just the problem of one single person – it could easily be about many guys (or girls) all around the world. As the song goes on, you soon realise that Mia is actually an out of reach person from another world, aka. the movies, rather than being a real life love interest. M.I.A. is sort of sweet and only a little bit creepy, the lyrics say so themselves – ‘You know my love for you is creepy and shallow.’ Sins Of Yesterday is the title of the eighth track on City Of Strangers and it opens with a muted first few lines of the song before the volume is cranked up a notch for another rousing head-nodder of an acoustic punk tune. Sins Of Yesterday is about trying to put the past behind you and dealing with things today, rather than sinking into your old ways. The chorus, which kicks off with a yell of ‘Scream out and wake the dead!’, is begging for a barroom singalong and I think, in doing so, would help to reaffirm the idea that the author of the song is doing the right thing in leaving the past behind. ‘Got no one to blame, Can't wash dirt off my hands, I snuck into the past, Craving sins of yesterday, Now I must stand tall for this little boy, Got to deal with how I feel, So sorry for disorder we have provided.’

The penultimate song on the album is called Blackbeard, The Sinking and, sorry if this disappoints you, is not a song about pirates. But what this is is another excellent and relatable singalong acoustic punk rock anthem. A swaying motion carries the song, perhaps brought about by the nautical references. Instead of Blackbeard, The Sinking being a song about a ship, Five Minute Major use a sinking ship as a metaphor for how your life might be going and how you try to stay afloat despite the obstacles that are thrown at you. It’s not exactly an original idea but I can’t help but get swept away (pun intended) by the song. These lines specifically need to be heard – ‘Suffocating on your jaded ways, You suck at being the anchor, Can't you hear our needs or what? Don't go down with the ship, With wind in it's sails, set the rudder, Play the part you chose, please don't go down.’ Damn Straight is the last on City Of Strangers and, not wanting to keep things the same, Five Minute Major start this song with a deep drum beat and bass guitar. The acoustic guitar doesn’t even make an appearance until almost a minute into the song. What does make a prompt re-appearance however is more of that lovely swapping of vocals that we heard earlier on the album. More than one vocalist, I feel, always gives a song that community feel and that’s exactly what punk rock, acoustic or otherwise, is all about. Damn Straight is about carrying on each day despite nothing changing for the better and trying to stand up for what you believe in. This, along with that sense of community, is perfectly summed up with the song’s bridge – ‘We just want you to sing along, We raise our middle finger to this song.’ An apt ending for a fine set of songs.

You can stream and download City Of Strangers on Bandcamp. And give Five Minute Major a like over on Facebook.

This album review was written by Emma Prew.