High Parade’s The Ocean is an incredibly solid debut that manages to expertly combine the dreamier aspects of shoegaze with cleaner, indie-pop production values. Their music is very much in the now but wouldn’t have stuck out like a sore thumb in the early ’90s. Although this approach is mega impressive especially considering how many bands fail in a similar vein, the album is not a classic. The second half is noticeably weaker and makes me wonder if they had enough material ready for a full-length release. Still, the first four songs ARE memorable, show a blossoming sense of style, and hint at much potential for this humble Calgary, Alberta-based band.
If you go to High Parade’s Bandcamp, you’ll discover that one of their goals is to make music that would fit in at The Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. I think they’ll be happy to know that not only would they fit the bill, but Audrey Horne wouldn’t be able to resist breaking out her signature dance moves. High Parade is the right amount of syrupy and strange that you would find in any Lynch production. Don’t believe me? Take a listen to their single “Stare.” Sheila Lacey’s piano passages are eerily reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s classic score. Even the way the chorus builds reminds me of any melodramatic scene involving new revelations of Laura Palmer’s past. This, of course, is not to say that the members of High Parade are low-grade thieves. Great songwriters steal in such a way that you won’t notice. It took me several listens for me to discover the influence so they are well on their way.
I really like the first two songs as well. “The Waves” is a moody, slow tempo barn burner that grows in epic proportions yet retains a sense of mystery. What are the waves? What exactly is bending and breaking? Sheila Lacey’s vocal performance is especially engaging. There is something clearly eating at her, but she chooses to hold back and not show her entire hand. She’s wonderful in her restraint. “Ghost” is my other favourite even though it’s slightly atypical for this band. Lucien Lahey and Aaron Smelski’s trebly guitars chime and jangle, as the rhythm section of Jesse McWilliams and Jonathan Prynn hold down a killer groove. It’s a song that haunts and confuses you as much as it makes you want to dance.
Unfortunately, as I said, the second half doesn’t measure up as well. Firstly, “Are They Chasing Me” is merely a short introduction to “This Town.” It is not unique or interesting enough to warrant standing by itself. Then the last track is merely a radio edit of “Stare.” Since that song was originally six minutes, it was a smart decision but maybe it should have been released separately? Even if it was omitted, “Perfume” is a weak closer. It’s kind of forgettable and would end the album with a whimper. This is true of any song after “Stare.” The musicianship is still stellar but the songwriting is nowhere as memorable. If the waves are rough and dangerous when this album starts, then they certainly become nothing but a ripple by the end.
The problem is the latter half of The Ocean lacks diversity and plods along as a result. If the first half is any indication though, High Parade has much promise and many different genres to springboard from. THESE songs are deserving of your attention. With more careful editing and continued experimentation, I definitely see a life of musical adventure for this band. I know they’ll be surfing in no time.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy