The Minor Canon’s band bio certainly isn’t the first press release to belie a band’s sound, calling their music “gritty.” “Gritty” isn’t the best word to describe a piano/acoustic-based band with a horn section and a singer whose voice is often reminiscent of Matthew Sweet’s. Comparing the band’s sound to “
If every song on the album were as engaging as the opening track, “It Never Was,” then the band could add “one of the finest indie pop albums in years” to its bio and be justified in doing so. A perfect marriage of emotive dynamics and melody, the song is a true pop gem, steadily intensifying through verse/chorus progressions with new instrumentation announcing each shift, whispering through the bridge, and then exploding into a cathartic coda that fades into a somber horn arrangement.
Unfortunately, after the superb opener, Larson and co. quickly steer the album into the mid-tempo doldrums, with a trio of plodding, bass drum-thudding songs. The droning chorus of “A False Start”—“You’re never happy/And you’re never sad” effectively sinks the already monotonous song. On “Bend Like Trees,” the band breaks from conventional verse/chorus structure with a Ben Folds Five-like romp that segues into a horn solo only to return to the song’s lumbering central theme. “The Art of Quick Draw” is livelier than the other two songs, but Larson’s stab at a clever verse falls flat: “I move faster than you can possibly know/And did you want to see it again?”
Just when it seems the album will officially retire into all-out blah, an acoustic ballad of all things energizes the record. Combining a guitar figure Sam Beam would be proud of with Larson’s tender vocals and placid piano backing, “Killing Spiders” is positively beautiful.
With “The Rockets Countdown,” the band resumes the mid-tempo melancholy, but the songs on the second half sound fresher and more focused than those earlier on the album. Moving from shuffle, to waltz, back to shuffle, “Old Long Since” is stronger in its musical detouring than “Bend Like Trees,” but Larson is still a long way from “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” territory. “The Present Time” coasts atop a gloomy piano arpeggio before ascending into the chorus’s lush texture, while “Cave In,” boasting the album’s brightest melody, is an uplifting, sing-along ode to malaise that would’ve been a fitting closing track. Instead, Larson closes with the seemingly unfinished “Upside Down,” which sounds like he recorded it while trapped in a storm drain.
That the Minor Canon began as Larson’s solo project before it grew into a six-man ensemble may account for some of the album’s unevenness. Still, when the band finds solid footing on No Good Deed, the result is sometimes fantastic and at the very least, as Larson sings on “Cave In,” “quite nice.”