A Northern Chorus
The Millions Too Many
n theory, A Northern Chorus should be my new favorite band. The Canadian sextet fuse together the elements of music that make me want to permanently tape headphones to my ears; swells of strings, horns, militaristic drums, shoegazey guitar, explosions of sound, and euphoric interruptions are all found on The Millions Too Many. Yet, for all their bombastic peaks and stirring orchestration, the nine tracks feel oddly flat and bereft of emotion.
Originating from Hamilton, Ontario, A Northern Chorus has, over the past eight years, released three albums that have mined a dreamy, ethereal approach to songwriting echoed in elongated tracks often spreading to eight minutes or more. On The Millions Too Many, they rein in this songwriting process, producing several songs that flit by in four minutes but still manage to maintain the epic feel, filling them with as many instruments as their prior releases.
Ostensibly a four-piece band filled out with violin and cello players, A Northern Chorus are technically proficient. They’ve obviously honed their chops but ultimately come across as too polished and accomplished. They lack a certain rawness that music of this magnitude requires to keep it grounded. The worst offender is singer Stu Livingstone whose vocals are too articulated, so much so that they come across as flat and vacant, a vessel for empty sentiments rather than another instrument accentuating the myriad of accoutrements that accent the songs.
Even the lyrics lack oomph, focusing on courteous calls to arms that seemingly ask us to rise up, but lack any sort of urgency in their persuasion. Opening track "Carpenter" tells the listener to: "Let’s take this time / All we’ve got is this time / We are furious and bored." While later, on "Remembrance Day," Livingstone emotes that: "This is how we survive / In accordance to the beauty that we find / Don’t let this fire burn out / And don’t let me forget that I’m alive."
Maybe I’m just going through a Mithridates moment—the Greek king took poison every day to build up a tolerance, ultimately becoming immune to it, so much so that when he was captured mid-battle his attempted suicide bid, by poison of course, failed due to his hardening—and, musically speaking, I feel immune to the textured, orchestral approach employed by A Northern Chorus. There are only so many euphoric explosions you can take before they ultimately start to sound like—or even pale in comparison to—all the other euphoric explosions employed by similar bands. It’s a simple process of desensitization. And whereas their fellow countrymen, the Besnard Lakes sound like birth and re-birth, and the Arcade Fire infuse death into their zeitgeist evoking tunes, A Northern Chorus are, to continue the life analogy, the wedding band—competent, commendable, but despite their grandiose approach, very commonplace.
All said though, there are moments, albeit tiny moments, where the band’s bursts of sound do cross over from benign to brilliant. The majestic explosion of strings and militaristic drums that enter a mere minute into the album makes me beg for more. Similarly, the shimmering shoegaze guitar that ties the opening track together makes for a memorable melody. The propulsion of pulsing strings that opens "Skeleton Keys" is suitably striking, while the backing vocals that bolster "Remembrance Day" manage to break free from Livingstone’s perfunctory performance.
The singer does provide some sensibility however, summing up the album on its closing track "Victory Parade." Atop of acoustic guitar and strings that swell but never burst, Livingstone asks us to “hold off the victory parade” and “call off the marching band.” I think I’ll do as I’m told.
Reviewed by: Kevin Pearson
Reviewed on: 2007-04-10