NAoN Cover Art

CD Review: National Anthem of Nowhere

After beating a hasty retreat from the freezing-cold New Pornographers show, we decided to sit down with Apostle of Hustle's (AoH) sophomore release, National Anthem of Nowhere. This is Arts & Crafts' first release of 2007, and if it's a sign of things to come, we're in for another great year of Canadian music.

National Anthem of Nowhere picks up where AoH's debut release, Folkloric Feel, left off. It's a focused effort that maintains a highly-experimental feel. Sampling and sound effects are subtly shifted to the background where they enhance the densely-populated soundscape. This time around, complex compositional layering and storied lyrics blend together into a fully developed and distinctive sound.

I can't think of a better album to beat these dreadfully cold February days when I just want to stay inside. There's something new to discover in every song with each listen. Even though AoH's remaining 2 shows at the Rivoli are both sold out, there's good news: National Anthem of Nowhere will be available in stores this Tuesday, February 6.

Continue reading for a track-by-track listing.

"My Sword Hand's Anger" is the current radio single, and an fitting choice for it. Of note, the song's catchy adrenaline-infused drumbeat and fuzzed guitars are just 2 pieces of a polished sound-mosaic that's fundamental to AoH's style. Fans are invited to remix this track in a contest with some great prizes.

National Anthem of Nowhere is the title track of the album. It distills all of the rock aspects of Broken Social Scene. Listening to this, we got the sense that Andrew Whiteman is one of the characteristic building blocks of BSS's music. At 3:08, the song takes a breather with just guitars, then accelerates to a horn-flourished finish.

Next up, The Naked & Alone's use of synth and pitch modulation gives this song an eerie quality of disjointed beauty. 3 minutes in, the piano begins a hostile takeover, leading the song into a lonely meltdown.

Some Spanish flavour emerges in track 4, with Haul Away's use of the Caja drum. The liner notes say that this song was inspired by a phrase that was coined in a word game with Feist. The interlude at 2 minutes is just another example of the melodic explorations that AoH often slips in long enough to be recognized, only to disappear shortly thereafter.

Cheap Like Sebastien, track 5, is our favourite pick of this album. It's dreamy music that has to be experienced to be understood. Indescribably good!

The spiritual intermission of this album has to be track 6, Rafaga!, a 4-minute tune based on a poem by Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The lyrics are taken directly from the poem about a pretty young girl, a butterfly, the open path, tears, and painting the heart.

The second half of the disc begins with Chances Are, the song that most resembles a standard radio tune. To AoH's credit, there's so much goodness in this track that it's impossible to digest it all in a single sitting.

A Rent Boy Goes Down follows with a structurally engaging composition. Electric guitar and drums alternate with a fantastic piano/acoustic duo. These two sounds merge together at 2:40, just in time to play it out for the finish.

Fast Pony for Victor Jara reignites the Spanish undertone of the album, with an ode to Chilean folk hero Victor Jara's "Quien mato a Carmencita" (Who Killed Carmencita). Of interest here is the fact that both Victor Jara and Federico Garcia Lorca (track 6) were killed in politically turbulent times in their respective home countries. Their inclusion in this album is significant, and merits another look at Folkloric Feel to see just how these sounds have permeated the group's work across 2 albums.

Moving on to track 10, Justine, Beckoning is driven by rich lyrics and layers of percussion, all mingled with synth and guitar work that culminates and then trails off, signalling the beginning of the end.

Track 11, Jimmy Scott is the Answer, is the mellowest track on the album so far, slow and steady as she goes. It gets pretty intense at 2:45, and fades as the song returns to the relatively empty sound heard in beginning.

NoNoNo is the final track of the album, with delicate layering of many instruments: violin, cello, piano, bongo, guitars and more. What's amazing is that it all happens in such a quiet and moody song. I wasn't expecting such a slow finale to this album, but it's exactly this kind of sudden change that AoH fluently orchestrates.

Thanks to Heidi at Arts & Crafts, and Luke for his input. Original artwork courtesy of Arts & Crafts.

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