July 8, 2009
Review: Archivist – Learning to Live on Poison.
photo from Archivist’s facebook page.
Montreal’s Archivist* has crafted a devastatingly gorgeous album. “Learning to Live on Poison” cycles through the various emotional states of heartbreak. Ben McCarthy channels it all: from the insomniac’s depressiveness to the shouting defiance where he rages against himself, his lover, the world, before returning to somberness (although never resignation). The album is filled with emotion but it is ever trite or overblown. Seemingly deeply personal – the songs are filled with the pronoun ‘I’ and, on a few occasions, by McCarthy’s first name – the emotion he is expressing never seems less than heart-wrenchingly genuine.
The album’s tone is set with ‘Sunday Morning,’ and you know it is going to be a rough ride for McCarthy by the time ‘Educated Hand,’ creeps around. But it is ‘Jagwagger’, where a defiant strut emerges – propelled by cymbals, slinky q-chord, gorgeous vocals by Pony Up‘s** Lisa Smith, and a great guitar line – that shows McCarthy (heart)broken but not obliterated. But the pace cannot be kept up for long and, in ‘Son of my Sorrows,’ returns to melancholic resignation, declaring “I’m done. I’m done. I’m done.” There is, however, more to be expressed, and he is back to raging in ‘Pop Litany,’ continuing through the remainder of the album shifting sounds and tempos but never being able to shake his devastation. It is the undoubtedly deliberate pacing which gives so much power to the record – the songs feel that they arrive naturally, as McCarthy is working through his emotions.
The diversity of tone – while remaining thematically unified – is matched by the diversity of sounds that brings the narrative to life. McCarthy enlisted some of the greatest talent in Montreal, and, while I have no doubt that this album could have been powerful if it was just McCarthy with his guitar, they add an amazing richness to the record. The vocal harmonies throughout echo and reinforce his sentiments. The horns of ‘Sunday Morning’ are glorious, wonderful plucked and bowed strings and the tinkling glockenspiel on ‘Speaking,’ and more and more, all serve to assist McCarthy’s catharsis.
I am pretty sure, halfway through the year, that “Learning to Live on Poison” will be on my best-of list for 2009.
Here’s a song off the record (my favourite at the moment) for you to check out:
Visit Said the Gramaphone for another track – the astounding ‘Sunday Morning’.
Archivist do not have any upcoming dates at the moment but be sure to check their myspace page for shows.
And, finally, here are a couple of videos for your viewing/listening pleasure.
** hot dog! Pony Up have a new album out and what I’ve heard on their myspace it sounds really, really good. Add that to your collection as well – you can get it physically with a handmade case and digitally from their store and digitally at VillaVillaNova (where you can get the track “Charles”).