Close to Paradise
Slip Into Your Skin
Weight of the World
Man Under the Sea
The Great Escape
Bright Shiny Lights
There was always something sexy about Purgatory. No one wants to hang out in Hell, but was Heaven ever really that appealing, either? How does that Talking Heads song go?"Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens..." Close to Paradise is one of those rare gems of an album that can stand as a gateway to wherever you want it to take you.
On the one hand it's impossible to ignore Patrick Watson as a classic singer-songwriter; the charming young piano-player with the haunting voice. The big impact of an otherwise simple song like "The Great Escape" is a testament to the attention that Patrick's voice, delivery and sensibility command. Just try and avoid vocal comparisons to Jeff Buckley on "Luscious Life" (inflected with just a bit of Sufjan Stevens-like orchestration), or the penetrating stripped-down gospel of "Bright Shiny Lights". In some ways Close to Paradise is the coming-out party for one of Canada's most exciting young vocalists. He's already been enlisted by the Cinematic Orchestra for both songwriting and vocal duties on their next album.
But on the other hand, Close to Paradise also features three other incredibly strong musicians just beginning to enter their prime, both in terms of skill and contributing song ideas. Robbie Kuster might be the best drummer in Montreal (recently lured out on tour and into the studio with Holy Fuck), and between him and Mishka Stein on bass, the band has the ability to bolt from dreamy ballad to all out intricate rock assault and back again without blinking an eye. Simon Angell is among that rare breed of guitarist that can do more with one subtle and well-timed chord as others can with a whole song of throw-away notes. He can stand and slay with the best of them, but it's when he's patiently seated and kneeling at his arsenal of effects pedals that you've really got to be on your guard. Consider that Kuster co-wrote the ethereal electronics of "Daydreamer", that Stein laid the foundation to "Luscious Life" (arguably the album's most accessible moment of pop assault), and that Angell adds songwriting to his banjo credit on the apocalyptic dustbowl of "The Storm", and it's clear that we're dealing with a two-headed monster - at least. Close to Paradise is also a serious trip of a record by as tight a four piece band as you'll find.
Recorded in part by both Jace Lasek at Montreal's Breakglass Studiosand Jean Massicotte at Master Cuts, the album also features guest appearances by two of Montreal's most exciting up-and-coming female vocalists: Land of Talk's Liz Powell, and country sweetheart sensation Katie Moore. Even electronic guru Amon Tobin adds a few touches.
Maybe most importantly, in age of records as mp3 cookie-cutter compilations, Close to Paradise is actually an album. Make no mistake, there are pop gems that are happy to stand on their own like "Giver" or "Drifters" (for which the band is currently working on a video), but "Bright Shiny Lights" is that much more uplifting after you take the trip that is "Sleeping Beauty". Records used to do that kind of thing. They still can. You know, if you want them to.
Play it loud, with headphones.
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