In this space, there has been no shortage of profiles of Canadian groups and artists (although the Scots are hard-charging to upend the Canucks as most commonly-profiled non-Americans). The sustained emergence of interesting acts from the True North continues this week with Manotick, Ontatio quartet Hollerado, although they are often spotted plying their craft in neighboring Quebec, as they often record and perform in Montreal. With a spirited mix of Weezer, Cheap Trick and The Clash influences, the group spins out highly enjoyable and straight-ahead rock music in their debut album, Record in a Bag.
However, the effort doesn't start out very promising with the minute and a half "Hollerado Land." Whoever singer the acoustic ditty doesn't have much appreciation for even the most basic elements of vocal performance, including enunciation, tone or pitch, and its nearly unlistenable. Perhaps if regular frontman Menno Versteeg had a go of it, it might have turned out better. Even though the intent is obviously tongue-in-cheek, the vocals are too distracting even reach that point. Meanwhile, that intro is followed by a good 20 seconds of sonic freakout to start "Do The Doot Da Doot Do," serving no purpose whatsoever. Nonetheless, when drummer Jake Boyd finally counts in the number at the 21-second mark, Hollerado finally arrives as what it truly is: a lively rock quartet with tunes to get you moving. The track is just a swinging number – a cross between the shimmering loudness of Jet and the rockabilly groove of Brian Setzer's The Stray Cats. With a chorus in the great tradition of choruses about absolutely nothing (like this, or this), its an infectious number for which foot-tapping is impossible to resist.
Overcoming their unfocused start, the record's third offering is just as fine as it's predecessor. "Juliette" is a clean rocker, with riffs supplied by Versteeg and fellow guitarist Nixon Boyd – the drummer's brother – emulating the classic Zevon riff in "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and trademark Weezer-style chorus harmonies. It's punchy and well-paced; a perfect use of its 3 minutes and 17 seconds. Meanwhile, the more restrained "Fake Drugs" that follows introduces the first of The Clash foundations, with its tangy guitars and off-beat rhythm leading to a more voluminous chorus part that could have played well on Weezer's fifth release, Make Believe.
But the best of this quartet of tracks is the album's sixth (after skipping the 10-seconds of nonsense in "Reno Chunk"), the thumping bass line and squirrely guitar of "Americanarama." Lamenting the demise of cities "in the northeast where the power used to sit," Versteeg notes economic troubles in places like Chicago and Buffalo, as well as the song's primary subject, Philadelphia, and issues a warning to places like Denver that their days of prosperity might eventually match its counterparts back east. Despite the number's gloomy subject matter, the "hey, lordy, lordys" and "doot doot dos" of the chorus keep the mood upbeat. And if the track's musical and lyrical prowess were not enough to impress on their own, the group's duo of videos for the single should: the recent brilliant one-take version, and its 2008 counterpart featuring Dave Foley is equally compelling.
The rest of the record's remaining six tracks are solid, but none can measure up to the swinging energy of the aforementioned four pack of tunes. "On My Own" is the most reflective of Joe Strummer, and the =W= spirit remains strong in offerings like "Got to Lose" – a neat reflection of the Blue Album's "Holiday" – "Riverside" and "Walking on the Sea," with Versteeg's vocals including just a touch of Dylan twang. At the same time, the collection's closing number, "What Everyone's Running For," sounds like a meeting of Great Big Sea and Southeast Engine in some great plains roadhouse.
Come for: "Americanarama"
Stay for: "Do The Doot Da Doot Do"
You'll be surprised by: "Fake Drugs"
P.S. Hollerado will be performing at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C. on December 1st.