CD Review of Applause Cheer Boo Hiss by Land of Talk
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The Rebel Group
Land of Talk:
Applause Cheer Boo Hiss

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


hat’s this? An album over a year old has managed to find its way into my review pile. There’s a big sicker on the front proclaiming that Land of Talk is a band from Montreal and contains “music made by people with big hearts and strange thoughts.” There are also two press quotes, one from Brooklyn Vegan declaring it a “Top 10 album of 2006.” Shit, and this thing just now got around to these parts? It makes me just a little wispy, thinking that it may have been sitting around forever, just waiting to be picked and have some more praise thrown on top of it. Well, as they say, there’s no time like the present.

After having listened to Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, I can tell you one thing for certain: lead guitarist/singer Liz Powell sounds an awful lot like Bettie Serveert’s Carol van Dijk. In fact, Land of Talk seems to be locked into a good groove of early ‘90s alterna-rock, back when such a thing actually existed and was still enjoyable to hear. As we all know, there is no such thing as “alternative” music anymore; the whole damn thing went up in flames as soon as all the record labels decided to have a free-for-all and started up the cookie-cutter machine to effectively make sure said genre would become nothing. They succeeded. But these guys definitely have a knack for making you feel like it’s 1991 all over again.

That said, this seven-song “mini-album” doesn’t make it to the finish line without getting bogged down in the middle. By the time “Breaxxbaxx” arrives, you’re not sure if you’re really enjoying this band on its own merits or if the first three tunes were just some crazy fluke. “Magnetic Hill” doesn’t help to make things any better, as the Land of Talk wayback machine sounds like it got stuck and is choking on its own fumes. But up to that point, everything is pretty damn delightful.

In fact, it’s probably guaranteed that you’ll hear “Speak to Me Bones” for the first time and walk away being really impressed. It’s not that the band is doing anything remotely “new”; it’s just that this particular sound hasn’t been heard in a while, making it all sound fresh again -- even though you’ll start making the connections to all the groovy early ‘90s bands of yore sooner than later. You might even be a little put off by the sound at first, because it sort of hits you in a surprise attack. Once it does, though, it’s like a goddamn bag of pistachios that you just can’t put down.

So yeah, Land of Talk are good at repeating that whole Matador Records groove, which careens on excitedly through the obtuse “Sea Foam” that alternates between languid verses and jacked up choruses. And on “Summer Special,” the band does its best Bettie Serveert impression by far. In fact, if you did a blindfold test on the track with a Bettie fan, you might be able to pass this off as one of their outtakes or some long-lost album track.

But then there’s that middle portion where the whole thing sort of starts to sound like it’s becoming bored with itself. It’s not so ironic, given that back in the alternative heyday, a lot of popular bands had the same damn problem with their own albums -- they’d come out of the gates really strong and then fail to pick it up on the back stretch. Luckily, this isn’t the case here. “All My Friends” gets back on the good foot effortlessly before the somewhat listless “Street Wheels” closes the disc and features the band slowing things down altogether and dragging it along for perhaps a little too long.

What Land of Talk does, it does quite well. It is nice to hear a band bring back a lot of good memories of a time when the whole music scene was exciting once again and it seemed like anything was possible. But can such a nostalgia trip be relied upon for anything else? It’s hard to say. Given that the band does fall victim to the same problems all those older bands did, it might be easy for some to dismiss them outright. But very few acts, if any, are flawless. And in the days of 2007 the whole music business is in such a shambles that it can often be hard to find anything to truly appreciate on its own merits. Still, for a groovy nostalgia trip, you could do a lot worse.

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