Slick precision and lush expansiveness. Not always the most harmonious elements, but Toronto-based Language Arts pairs the two sensibilities with ease. The key is in how leader Kristen Cudmore’s vocals lubricate any possible tension. Curt but empathetic, she sings with a kind of observational bounce — it’s always attentive to the meter, yet still manages to sidestep the traps of appearing too cold or robotic. It helps that the core trio of herself, bassist Neil MacIntosh, and drummer Joel Visentin explore the studio with total abandon. Keys, saxophones, and other auxiliary instrumentation extrapolate expertly on the song’s themes to produce an all-encompassing aesthetic. At times, the ascending layers of sound are superbly dizzying.
And yet, for all the textures on display, groove remains a powerful weapon in this band’s hands. Though usually working with uber dry tones, MacIntosh and Visentin employ sharp muscularity to their parts. Occasionally, this does veer into a noisier moment — such as the end of “You Came Knocking” or the crunchy intro to “Now to Nowhere”. But for the most part, like Cudmore, this pair generate power from their fine detail, not overdriven saturation. The result is a collection of songs that would fit as comfortably next to the literate guitar pop of Belle and Sebastian or Alvvays as they would alongside the cut n’ paste beat labs of Caribou or Braids.
Able Island, the band’s third LP, is said to be “inspired by a sense of home and belonging” —despite their lofty, widescreen sonic ambitions, Cudmore’s plainspoken presence does keep it all grounded. Whether singing about pining for added closeness to someone (“Neighbour”) or examining the private dreamscapes constructed around a new love (“Secret Worlds in the Dark”), she is constantly articulate, narrating this world with an astute intellect.
This is a brainy collection that still welcomes you in without pretension and loves to dance, too. There’s a ton of pleasures in which to get lost here, but Language Arts keep you tethered to a common theme of finding your place in this world and claiming it.