All that super-introverted college music many of us grew up on has generated a small dilemma since ascending the commercial ladder: How do we knowingly-cozy North Americans continue to reconcile earnest music-making with all this melodrama? Indie’s present nobility has, in a squall of bookish heartache, left no first-world problem unturned, treading shamelessly on the well-trodden and creating claustrophobia for incomers like Vancouver-based alt-poppers Said The Whale. Despite the unforgiving circumstances, they seem unwilling to succumb: “We Are 1980” opens third LP Little Mountain by proposing we ditch our internet-fueled jadedness and get vulnerable.
Once cooking, that leadoff congeals into a gutsy guitar/keyboard unison and a sing-a-long fashioned from Third Eye Blind-bubblegum, then gives way to the folkish strums and panoramic vocal harmonies of “Big Sky, MT” for a warm rush of mountainside nostalgia. It’s tough to see untrusting music cynics letting this in, and the sync license sugar only gets sweeter when the rhythm section steps in like reformed post-punkers, prominent bass guitar planting hooks along staccato guitar pulses, production clean and choruses towering. These two feels meet in sayonara-my-home ditty “Big Wave Goodbye,” twisting a saccharine farewell into brass-fed jubilance for a cool juxtaposition. Some moments are faithful hat-tips—The Shins here, Weezer there—but are unfortunately devoid of their progenitors’ freakish eloquence, hanging instead onto casual poeticism that never seems truly nude or dangerous. But those won’t spoil the bounty of patience: Anxious, theatrical prog in “Hurricane Ada” and the epiphanic “Lucky,” which casts off the album’s downtrodden moments in a clearheaded refrain of thanks.
The indie landfill isn’t far if they don’t watch their step, but they do. Said The Whale represent the “stick with what you know” maxim well on Little Mountain, a collection of wide-eyed, polite tunes that won’t change the world. This they know, and it’s quite alright.
In A Word: Self-aware