La La Land is an album that is full of contradictions. This struck me after the very first listen when the album felt instantly familiar. Plants And Animals describe themselves as post-classic-rock – and I can see where they're coming from – but that 'post' prefix implies a sense of detachment, reflection, even superiority. Sure, La La Land is all in all a rather subdued creation, but those classic rock leanings that recur throughout the record emerge so organically, and the homage is so affectionate, that it almost sound like the album itself was a product of the classic rock hey-day and that these songs have been kicking around since your childhood. Critics have mourned the absence of that originality which earned previous release Parc Avenue wide acclaim, but while La La Land may be a less challenging listen, it is an album that is no less accomplished than its predecessor.
Upon learning that the band hail from Montreal, another juxtaposition, around which the album is brilliantly poised, became all the more apparent to me. There is the tongue-in-cheek title, along with tracks like the facetious American Idol, with its playful saxophone solos and droll lyrics, and Kon Tiki, with its faintly sordid subject matter. These elements, with their evocations of the sun-baked California coast, and all the disposable, debased concerns that come with it, reside in an exquisite tension alongside singer Warren Spicer's soulful falsetto and the rich orchestral arrangements that have come to be synonymous with Montreal's musical legacy. Take Gameshows – an album highlight for me – a gorgeous, sincere ballad with lyrics that once again allude to the gaudy world of showbiz. Though the track relies on quite a predictable progression, the arrangement is nonetheless affecting, building to an emotional crescendo in which even the jazzy pianos sound utterly heartfelt. It's a technique that Plants And Animals apply to a lot of the tracks on La La Land: though few songs stray much past the five minute mark, they manage to build such elaborate soundscapes and such dizzying climaxes that they very nearly encapsulate all the emotional resonance and grandeur of their prog-rock forefathers. However, this knack can also work against them – after aforementioned peak Gameshows midway through, the album slumps into tedious, indulgent filler, with tracks like Celebration and Future From The 80s consisting of nothing more than a repetitive psychedelic jam that makes two minutes feel like ten. Fortunately, closing track Jeans Jeans Jeans with its Blue Oyster Cult-esque riff redeems the album, bringing La La Land full circle with a sense of warm nostalgia to match that of the opening tracks.
Words : Tegan Rogers