Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Playing in the Volcano Playground

I must say that I have surprised even myself at writing this article. At first when I listened to this group, I was intrigued, but didn't really hear anything special that jumped out at me. I thought it was cool music, but there was not brunt, searing edge that cut into you. But then I realized that that was what made it special, and what made it different. It's not that it is a lesser music than what I review here all the time, it's just different, and as such, must be held to different standards.
And so, with that little tidbit in mind, I introduce to you Volcano Playground, an indie-rock four-piece out of Toronto, Canada. Composed of Jackie Game (vocals, guitar, bass, and drums), Jakub Hladik (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums), Pete Plishewsky (guitar, bass, and keyboards), and Mark Plishewsky (vocals, guitar, drums, and sampling), Volcano Playground puts a new edge on the shoegaze sound, bringing it back from the depths of time, back to our ears and thoughts.
They do this on their new EP Waiting, and from the very first song, I'm hooked on something I don't quite understand, but I certainly like. Track one, "Waiting," is a deep blend of dreamy keyboards and alternative drumming, the likes of which I would expect to hear on a Smashing Pumpkins record. Then Hladik comes in on vocals, and the sound is so dream-pop-inspired that I have no choice but to listen. What's the word I'm searching for? Surreal. Nothing has been this surreal since since Jefferson Airplane some forty-odd years ago. And in the background, you can hear Jackie Game's soft vocals, picking up on a Silversun Pickups sound, and just serenading your ears to happiness. The best way I can describe this is just a wall of sound coming at you, and you just falling into it.
And just as soon as it began, it's over, and track two, "Blinking Lights," has made itself known. Here, Game takes the first set of lead vocals, and you can hear Hladik and Plishewsky softly lending their voices in the background, as all four of them keep the sound curtain up with dreamy guitar, intermediate-yet-fantastic bass lines, and drums that keep the song rolling from one chorus to another. The keys on this song are particularly colorful, and add a flavor to the song that I very much enjoy. 
Track three, "Anywhere," is a little more reserved in its shoegaze sound, but sounds interestingly like Savage Garden, at least in its drumbeat and bass line. But the pop sound is quickly abandoned upon the introduction of a surreal guitar riff, and then Game's vocals make me think more of Gracie Slick than Darren Hayes. Mark Plishewsky's vocals, too, add a certain surrealism to the whole song, and as one Plishewsky goes ahead on the drums and bass, the other one takes his time with the guitars and keyboards, knowing exactly what sound he wants to get out of them, and taking his time to get just that. All four combine to create a fantastic sound that makes me think of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, and since I'm a big Floyd fan, I love it.
The last two tracks on the EP, "We Are Clashing," and "Outer Spaces," wrap up the record in a great way. "We Are Clashing" is less shoegaze and more alternative-rock/dream-pop in a way that The Cure would be proud of. Once again, Game's voice is heard high above dreamy guitars and keys, but this time the bass is pumped up a little, and the drums, owing to the title of the song, really do crash, from one chord to another. But there's something different here. It's not noise. It's almost a romantic sense of chaos and disorder, and there is no other way I can put it. "We Are Clashing" segues very nicely into the album's last track, "Outer Spaces." Here the sound seems almost more happy, in an almost childish way, thanks to Plishewsky's sampling. But Game's vocals, combined with those of Plisehwsky, soon take that sound and mature it to a level that any alternative-rock musician would be proud of. Truly a great track to sit and think about the cosmos to. If ever there was an album to play while pondering the universe, this is it. Fantastic.

Sounds Like: Silversun Pickups, Smashing Pumpkins, Pink Floyd, The Cure

Key Tracks from Waiting: "Waiting," "Blinking Lights," "We Are Clashing"

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