Those new to Land of Talk will not be surprised to hear that the band spent the time between their latest album, Cloak and Cipher, and their previous one touring with Broken Social Scene. Having never heard Land of Talk’s debut (2008’s Some Are Lakes), I can’t speak to how much that album owed to BSS’s trademark, epic indie-pop, but Cloak and Cipher absolutely aims to match that grandiosity.
What is surprising to hear is that Land of Talk is a three-piece band, as Cloak and Cipher is unfailingly lush in a way that would be difficult for a five-piece to pull off. A great deal of credit goes to lead singer/guitarist Elizabeth Powell, whose poignant, powerful vocals and dexterous guitar work go a long way to creating a heavy wall of sound in which the listener can become easily transfixed. It also probably helps that Land of Talk’s friends in the Canadian indie rock scene (Stars, Arcade Fire) lend their talents throughout Cloak and Cipher. Those are most certainly bands who know bombast when they see it.
Despite those contributions and despite the plentiful virtues of Cloak and Cipher, it’s held back from the glory attained by Land of Talk’s peers due to a few consistent problems. For starters, there are a number of songs (“Goaltime Exposure”, “Swift Coin”, “Playita”) that, while imbued with a number of enjoyable hooks, go on much longer than necessary. Several songs cross the five-minute mark without doing much more than utilizing the stock verse-chorus-verse-chorus format. That’s a lot of time to spend without breaking out of conventional pop structures.
But again, there is a lot about Cloak and Cipher that works. There’s sharp instrumentation and beguiling melodies aplenty. “The Hate I Won’t Commit” plays rapid-fire guitar shredding against a snarling, erratic bass-line, and it’s one of Cloak and Cipher’s most intense moments. Opener “Cloak and Cipher” is a sweet, summery composition, given a considerable boost by bassist Joseph Yarmush’s nimble, bouncy bass work. In fact, the expert interplay between the trio members is probably the highlight of the album. Yarmush’s bass lines are forceful and playful enough to add extra layers of rhythm to the already dynamic songs. And “Color Me Badd” offers a great showcase to drummer Andrew Barr, who lights up the chorus with a thrilling shot of speedy clicks.
Yet when Cloak and Cipher really comes alive, it’s Powell’s show. Perhaps unwittingly, Powell constantly projects elegant heartache, and her voice lends a considerable emotional heft to even the material that isn’t fully realized. For now, Land of Talk are a qualified success as a band, but their more adventurous music suggests that they could be something greater if they choose to follow their weirder muse.