In independent music, anticipation can sometimes be just as important as the material itself. Artists have taken advantage of such leverage before, pushing an album’s release date ahead or behind originally scheduled to keep in sync with the amount of foreseen hype. This practice is viewed by many as a shameful and manipulative way to monetize subpar material. While many artists are practically starving to be given any sort of recognition, it is usually the artists that are prominent enough to actually generate anticipation that partake in such actions. As for the others, it is usually just the result of tactfulness. It is, at least, in the case of Brent Randall & His Pinecones. There are few artists that dare to wait five years to release follow-up material to an acclaimed debut, mainly due to a fear of losing the audience that the initial material strived so hard to capture. What is so bold about Brent Randall & His Pinecones is how they avoided the temptation to follow their debut EP, Quite Precisely, immediately, instead opting to tour for the next several years as a means to build a foundation for the group and improve their overall chemistry. This unique plan has clearly rewarded them well; their new album presents some of the most polished and memorable material that one is bound to hear from a band that they have never heard of.
When Brent Randall & His Pinecones released their debut EP, Quite Precisely, in 2004, they were greeted with acclaim from local publications that saw their release as one of the best to hail from Halifax in a long time. The Canadian natives took the glowing press to heart and proceeded to tour throughout the province of Nova Scotia and beyond. Out of the publications that got Quite Precisely in their hands, there were few that did not praise the excellent songwriting of Randall. They showcased their signature sound immediately, flaunting a sophisticated form of chamber-pop that borrowed just as much from ‘60s pop as it did from contemporary crooners like Rufus Wainwright, Neil Hannon, and Stuart Staples. Randall’s songwriting is reminiscent of the symphonic pop music that troubadours like Randy Newman, Burt Bacharach, and even Paul McCartney have gained renown for, but Randall’s vocal approach is dynamic enough to incorporate more genres and influences than chamber-pop is accustomed to. This result places Brent Randall & His Pinecones in a category where groups like B.C. Camplight and Field Music exist; he finds himself at the perfect meeting place between indie-rock and chamber-pop. That the six-piece is talented was clear to audiences that saw Brent Randall & His Pinecones at various performances, but whether or not they had the ability to direct all their talent toward an album was a question that was continuously being asked. Now, it has been answered resoundingly.
While their sound certainly shows that Randall and co. certainly have an appreciation for the ‘60s and ‘70s, their new album, We Were Strangers in Paddington Green, showcases a very eclectic sound that remains highly accessible and infectious despite the good amount of variation that Randall includes. There were 24 different musicians that were involved in the creation process, with most of them touting a different instrument. Try not to be swept away by the tidily serene pop goodness of “Strange Love (Don’t Be Lazy)”, the brassy uproar of “Bluebirds, Flowers and Other Things”, or the string-led elegance of “Slumberjack”. I find myself enamored by all three of those tracks, but if one does not enjoy the style presented on one of them I still urge you to listen to the album in its entirety. We Were Strangers in Paddington Green is a beautifully constructed attempt at chamber-pop in its mixture of tempos, alternating structural tendencies, andvarying instrumental tones. These aspects create a sense of diversity while simultaneously maintaining a style that is cohesive throughout the album’s entire duration. “Slumberjack” finds the group attempting a heartfelt ballad in its purest form, while “Bluebirds, Flowers and Other Things” has a touch of rock ‘n’ roll to it that adds extra life to its orchestral exterior.
“Strange Love (Don’t Be Lazy)” fits somewhere in between the two; it boasts a fancifully convincing chorus that triumphs with ardent excellence before taking over a verse that is elegant by any stretch of the imagination.
Released in 2008 as a 45″, the first single from We Were Strangers in Paddington Green is “Strange Love (Don’t Be Lazy)”. Even after the first listen, I found myself completely captivated by the Randall’s ability to write a pop song. Apart from its beautiful arrangements and high level of accessibility, Randall informs the listener that his vocals are flawless when in appliance to this type of music. His natural voice is uncharacteristically deep for the specified genre of chamber-pop, but his ability to alternate pitches comes in handy during the outstanding chorus of “Strange Love (Don’t Be Lazy)”. After a series of breezy verses that would likely sound even better against the visual backdrop of the Caribbean, a variety of slide guitars and twinkling keys subside to clear way for the vocals of Randall and others. “Don’t be lazy, sing a song for me,” he repeats, sounding surprisingly effective and ardently empowering over the most instrumentally barren point of the song. It is the vocals and its accompanying melody which carries him though, and the violin solo that follows it provides an excellent form of melodic emphasis.
Like “Slumberjack”, “The Nightingale and the Rose” is also notable for showing how the group is able to whip up a ballad with relative ease. As most of the songs on the album are, the melody is nearly impeccable and the hooks are delivered with the utmost precision. Since the group had five years to work on the album though, it is not surprising. With its unique percussion and distinctive melody, “The Nightingale and the Rose” is generally reminiscent of The High Llamas’ more subdued material. While I do understand that comparisons to other chamber-pop artists are abundant, Brent Randall & His Pinecones concoct enough ingenuity to have the potential to serve as one of those brand names of chamber-pop. As a whole, We Were Strangers in Paddington Green reminds me distinctively of Bryan Scary’s efforts, which I featured here and here. “Lion’s Valley”, in particular, even sees Randall with a similar vocal delivery. Like Scary, Randall fuses both chamber-pop and indie-rock to create a sound that is extremely memorable and abundant with hooks. On an album that is somewhat lengthy for a pop album of its kind, the type of consistency showcased on We Were Strangers in Paddington Green is astounding. As we all know now, the five years since Brent Randall & His Pinecones’ last release was well worth the wait.