East coast rockers North Lakes released their sophomore album Grand Prix last May, a fitting extension and evolution of their critically heralded debut, Cobra. A rolling tribute to the jangly pop-rock records of the 60′s, with a dash of latter day garage rock to up the ante, the Charlottetown, PEI band have undoubtedly crafted something of which to be proud. The succinct eight track album (we’re talking length here, not those antiquated cartridges you used to listen to) is just the sort of thing you’d want bursting through your ear drums as you bustle across town in the summer sun, from the harbour to the hills and back again.
Grand Prix opens with a lone organ, a fitting offering to the space in which the album was created – an abandoned, perhaps haunted, church in Long Creek. Soon after, the drone of chugging guitars enter into the equation as the first track, “Crumbling Dice,” builds and singer Nathan Gill confidently belts out the opening lines, “My head is swinging like a chandelier.” The track continues to ebb and flow along these lines as the instrumentation fires it up and then gives way to a typically catchy chorus, “I don’t need no fucks, telling me how to listen to a record.” The song is a fantastic blueprint for the album as a whole, drifting between upbeat swaggering hooks and sly mellow grooves.
Elsewhere the band’s pop-rock throwback vibe is well evidenced on tracks “Copernicus Copernicus” and the sanguine rocker “Avalanche,” while their unrelenting energy is showcased to a tee in centrepiece “Hands-off Director.” It is without a doubt, however, that Grand Prix‘s hands-down standout has got to be penultimate track ‘The Holy Water.’ Complete with shrieking distorted vocals, brief organ blasts, a darker drive, anthemic percussion and choral interjections, it may be a brief departure from the album’s hitherto sunny disposition, but it’s an exciting glimpse at a yet deeper expansion of the band’s sonic territory.
Those familiar with North Lakes’ previous outing, the Music PEI award-winning Cobra, will instantly recognize how much the band’s sound has already progressed between releases; a tradition that is sure to continue if Grand Prix is any indication. Where their debut was most definitely charming in its own right, the song-writing and musical implementation is even more self-assured and the driving idea and direction behind it more discernible this time around.
Catching up with Gill and drummer Mike Carver, the two explained a little about how their new release had evolved from the Cobra era. The acoustic guitars no longer present made way for what they felt was a more authentic representation of the band’s sound. As Carver put it, they often felt like “a rock and roll band in denial.” And while the vocal harmonies of North Lakes’ good friend Gillian Arsenault are missed, her professional path was leading her in a different direction and they couldn’t be more proud.
In any case, North Lakes have certainly found a new, strong footing with Grand Prix. The album hangs brilliantly together by the rushing instrumentation, often rocking in the same vein as garage legends Exploding Hearts – and with the same sense of melody too. All the while Gill’s own vocal mastery punctuates the songs, sometimes even speak-sung in the manner of Canadian indie rockers Constantines. At times the vocals, with their witty and vivid lyricism, cry to be let loose above the busy guitars, but it’s clear that through and through this album is the work of a whole, tight band.
The album closes on the exceedingly catchy ‘Vixen,’ at times a testament to drifting and to finding one’s place. With excerpts such as “We don’t get many of your kind down here,” and “Soon enough you’ll be running this town,” it seems a most fitting conclusion to this chapter as North Lakes continue to gain their ground in the alt-rock scene, a tribute to their talent and to the inevitably resplendent spaces it should take them.
- Adam Findlay