I had a hard time writing this review. It was unbelievably aggravating trying to pin down Montreal’s Give Me Something Beautiful. Sometimes they can sound ugly, paranoid, and emotionally volatile, and other times they pin me to the floor with their gorgeous and melodic output. As I’ve come to realize, that’s what makes these guys work; they are fascinatingly unpredictable. Ghost on a Throne constantly toes the line between sensitive and accusatory. The mood swings on here are alarming, but also really exciting. Like a hormonal teenager, you are never quite sure what you are going to get.
A lot of this emotional baggage can be credited to singer and guitar player Matthew Hills, who at times sounds like the long-lost cousin of either Alt-J’s Joe Newman or Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, except perhaps even more damaged. Like those guys, he instantly demands your attention with his unique vocal stylings. His offbeat sensibility and frightening honesty, mixed with a gentle romanticism, makes you want to believe him while staying suspicious of his intentions. On the track “Fille,” a line like, “I know a girl who is pretty as you in the morning” can either come off as mocking and lovesick, or hopeful with a renewed faith in love.
The band as a whole is just as erratic. There are times where they switch dynamics, and even instrumentation, within the same song, and in places you’d never expect them to. Take for example, the lead-off track “Destroy Me,” which starts as an upbeat, slightly-on-edge rocker with a Talking Heads vibe. As it progresses, there is a middle-eastern, acapella section that never appears again, and the coda features sweeping, classic-guitar arpeggios that fade into oblivion. The rhythm section, Étienne Dextrase-Monast and Raphaël Pellerin, also know in turn when to play like wallflowers, or like the two craziest people in the room.
There are some real gems on this album, which have rightfully earned the top 25 spot on my Ipod. ‘’Destroy Me,’’ ‘’Fille,’’ and ‘’Fear and Gasoline’’ are all prime illustrations of the many interior contradictions within the band, but the masterpiece is easily the album-closer ‘’A Decade Wide.’’ It actually sounds like the bitter sound of defeat, the devastation of chasing a dream that should have been given up long ago. With the help of guest vocalist Lianne Seykora, the band opens up a vulnerability that awakens my strongest suspicions; this is a band with a tremendous amount of heart.
The album, sadly, sags in the middle like a sandwich that has been left in a plastic bag too long. There is nothing on here that is outwardly bad, and every track has at least one moment that comes directly out of left field, but maybe the band should have considered shaving off a bit of the crust. Songs like ‘’Skin’’ and ‘’Your Father, The Bombardier’’ get lost in the shuffle, and are unmemorable as a result. With ten solid tracks, they could have had one hell of a hardy lunch.
So, in the end, I can’t say I fully understand Give Me Something Beautiful. They remain a mystery, but I supposed that is their appeal. They do not storm through the gate like a wild stampede, but this leaves them with more surprises for fans on their future releases. Whatever they have up their sleeves, I am willing to bet it isn’t more of the same. Of course, that might be just what they want us to think.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson