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Land of Talk
Since forming Land of Talk in 2006, the one certainty in her life has been uncertainty, as her band has gone from being one of Montreal’s most brash, buzzy indie rock acts to one of its most elusive and enigmatic. After recording Land of Talk’s debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, Elizabeth lost her drummer (the first in what would become a semi-regular pattern of line-up changes). After releasing Land of Talk’s first full-length record, Some Are Lakes, in 2008, she lost her voice. And after the 2010 follow-up, Cloak and Cipher, she lost her will.
Land of Talk’s new album, Life After Youth, recreates the same conditions and recruits much of the same personnel that produced Land of Talk’s scrappy debut EP, the end result is dramatically different than anything the band has attempted before. While caring for her father, Elizabeth fell under the spell of classical, ambient, and Japanese tonkori music, whose meditative quality aided his recovery. Immersing herself in those sounds would change her entire approach to music-making; she started writing songs without her trusty guitar, instead building tracks up from synth beds and programmed loops. “Because I was feeling so stripped down and having powerful realizations and emotions about life, I wanted to get away from guitar into more hypnotic synth sounds,” she says. “I wanted things to be more lulling and comforting.”
Life After Youth‘s centerpiece track, “Inner Lover,” presents the most radical results of those experiments. It’s an audio Rorschach test of a song: key in on the incessant synth pulse underpinning Elizabeth’s pleading vocal (“take care of me!”) and the track assumes an ominous intensity. But when you surrender to the relaxed drum counter-rhythm and subliminal harmonies, “Inner Lover” projects a graceful serenity.
From Montreal to Orillia to Toronto to New Jersey and back to Montreal again, the story of Life After Youth resembles one of those Raiders of the Lost Ark maps with the red routing lines bouncing back and forth into a blur-“which is kind of like what my brain is like,” Elizabeth says with a laugh. But from that mental and geographic scramble, a work of great focus and clarity has emerged. The last time Elizabeth Powell brought new music into the world, Justin Bieber didn’t have a criminal record, tinder was just something you used to start a campfire, and Donald Trump’s assholery was still safely confined to reality-TV shows. To paraphrase the late David Bowie, it’s been seven years, and Elizabeth’s brain hurt a lot. But she stands today as the patient-zero case study for Life After Youth‘s therapeutic powers. These are the songs that got her through the tough times. And now, they can do the same for you.