Choosing power pop—or something close to it—as your musical style is almost a certain recipe for a future as a cult act, at best. A few bands have transcended the genre (Cheap Trick comes to mind) but for the most part, making power pop means consigning one’s career to a specific corner of the pop landscape, a comparatively small piece of the commercial pie.
Yet some artists are creatively content to do what they do, ignoring labels and simply going about the business of writing catchy songs with sharp hooks, putting them together on albums that are enjoyable start to finish, and touring in support of that music. Thoughts of riches and/or stardom don’t greatly trouble the minds of these rare artists. And, in fact, they don’t consciously make music that conforms to anyone’s idea about genre.
An exemplar of this approach is Sloan. Started in Halifax, Nova Scotia and long based in Toronto, Sloan started out making shoegaze-y rock that bore a surface stylistic similarity to My Bloody Valentine. But by the time of 1994’s “Twice Removed,” the band had found its collective nature. Released against the prevailing commercial headwinds of grunge rock, “Twice Removed” was an album full of indelible, chiming rock.
And while the record was a cohesive whole, it revealed a great deal of variety within, thanks to the fact that Sloan isn’t the sort of band that has one guy out front, writing and singing all the songs. All four members—Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland and Andrew Scott—are accomplished songwriters and vocalists.
Moreover, all four play multiple instruments, so in the studio the group can take on a subtly different character depending on whose song is being recorded. That variety carries over to the stage, where the band can also switch things up .
In a catalog filled with highlights, Sloan’s 2014 album “Commonwealth” stands out. A double album (released on two vinyl LPs or a single CD), “Commonwealth” took an approach like the first disc of Pink Floyd’s 1969 album “Ummagumma,” or the four records released in 1978 by the members of Kiss: each musician took an entire album side to explore his own songs. Part of the beauty of “Commonwealth” is that not only is it packed with excellent tunes, it holds together as a group effort.
This year’s “12” is Sloan’s twelfth full-length release. And while the band has never been the sort to make the same album over and over again, Sloan albums have been consistent in their uniformly high quality, showcasing its members’ commitment to sturdy songwriting and musicianship that is both subtle and powerful. And that’s a winning combination, no matter what style of music one plays.
June 23, 8pm at Bottom Lounge, 1375 West Lake (312)666-6775; $20.
Author: Bill Kopp
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. His more than 2,500 interviews, essays, and reviews reflect Bill’s keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill’s work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues, and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s final album. His first book, “Reinventing Pink Floyd,” is due from Rowman & Littlefield in February 2018.