Black Sheep, the debut full-length from Montreal’s acoustic quartet, Five Minute Major, is the definition of folk-punk-by-numbers. A big part of the genre’s overall charm is its familiarity and Five Minute Major embraces this fact, but they also add the right amount local charm to separate themselves from the pack. Unfortunately after multiple listens, very few of the songs stand out and as a whole the record is very easy to ignore. I first saw Five Minute Major at this year’s Pouzza Fest, and I was impressed by their catchy aggression and how folky the folk part of their sound gets. Some folk-punk bands think all they have to do is play punk songs on acoustic instruments for it to count, and I was glad to see a band who could meld the two more thoroughly.
This is a strength that still exists on the record and is my favourite part of its ten tracks. The acoustic guitars consistently ring out with the frantic urgency of a punk band but incorporate the catchy and charming twang of country and folk music. The band’s vocals are rough around the edges and replace the typical southern accents of folk-punk with stereotypically Quebecois accents instead. Their strong Quebecois identity is another one of their biggest strengths. As a result, songs like “J’feel tout croche,” which is sung entirely in French, and “The Shape of Blues to Come,” with its confusing and possibly separatist political message, are my favourites on the record. Those songs come as close as you can to being diverse in a genre as straightforward as theirs.
The band’s low-key percussion is also an interesting twist. Often sounding scratchy, the drumming adds sonic texture rather than concerning itself with keeping rhythm, a job that the band’s more than capable guitar and bass players have assigned to themselves instead.
Ultimately, Black Sheep is somewhat of a snooze but Five Minute Major is a band to keep your eye on and if you get the chance to see them play live, do it! It’s where their energetic “songs for the people, by the people” attitude thrives the most.
Written by Brian Charles Clarke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy