In a really, really reductive sense, there seem to be two minds out there, two distinctly different sets of ears, when it comes to the way 1970s sounds and culture permeate contemporary indie rock circles.
The first set listens to Jim O’Rourke’s Insignificance and sees it as a kind of paint-by-numbers parody, a somewhat intrinsically condescending — albeit musically very engaging — mimeograph of 70s stadium rock, orchestral pop, and other commercial genres.
The second set, which appears to be more common, listens to Jim O’Rourke’s Insignificance and just thinks it rocks.
This, one guesses, says more about the listener than it does about O’Rourke’s intentions as a recording artist, but the bottom line is that it’s a really simple way to get to heart of the matter.
There are those who get a kick out of referencing and toying with and paying homage to the commercially successful artifacts of bygone/recently departed decades and those who only stomach some of it, depending on their tastes or their hunger for archaeology, when it’s utilized as part of a larger message.
Sloan seems to fall clearly into the former category, and if ever you need ammunition to argue the point, you’ll find it in nearly every corner and chorus of Action Pact.
Though it clocks in just above 45 minutes, the carefully produced, studio-savvy 14-track disc gets in more than its fair share of familiar licks.
At times, the guitar- and vocal-driven Canadian quartet call to mind the radio-ready refrains of The Cars (see the album opening “Gimme That”). Elsewhere, it’s the sweeping and textured post-Pumpkins rock of Zwan (see the dreamy, layered guitars and vocals of “False Alarm”), the poppy edge of a post-grunge rock act like Seaweed (see the crunchy “Hollow Head”), and even Weezer (see “Step on it, Jean,” which could transition smoothly into “Buddy Holly,” Mr. Radio DJ).
But, for the most part, this feels like a record about being entrenched in the 1970s and it’s borderline-incredible to hear how well Sloan conjures and recreates some of the sounds of the decade.
The copyright date and the fine print says 2004, but you probably wouldn’t believe it while listening to tracks like “Ready for You” and “Backstabbin’”(both of which feel, at moments, like they’re supposed to slip into a verse of “Cat Scratch Fever”) or “Live On” (which, beneath the distorted guitars, has that occasional 1/2-1/2 cow bell hit you were expecting to hear through the entirety of Wet Hot American Summer).
There are obviously songs that don’t fit into these patterns (the sugar-sweet bubblegum pop of “The Rest of My Life,” the bluesy sleepiness and multi-tracked vocals of “Nothing Lasts Forever Anymore”), but they’re more the exception than the rule.
For all the criticism that could be heaped on this kind of 70s-redux, though, it’s also important to note that the record is a good one — well written, well performed, well recorded. From the sounds of it, Sloan hit all the targets they were aiming for and then some, nailed all the right notes, used the studio for all it could provide them, got the sequencing and mastering down to a well-polished science. Of the 14 tracks on the Koch Records offering, there’s not one you could point to as a dud and not one that goes wandering off course enough to claim the band forgot its road map somewhere along the way.
For the right audience, you could say this is a hell of a rock record but a lot of that perspective depends on your thoughts of the 70s and how the byproducts of the day fit into the early years of the 00s.