The Expos - Old Friends
Release Date: September 26th, 2006
Record Label: Stomp Records
While I could spend every remaining second of my life outlining every last genre, sub-genre, label, and category listeners have confined specific acts to, very few of these so-called "divisions" are worthy of any recognition, and even less warrant a second glance. Yet, for every artist that appears determined to be lumped into a particular rank, it's as if we face a flood of performers who aren't so effortlessly alpahbetized. In the case of Newmarket, Ontario's self-proclaimed, pop-ska act, The Expos (formerly The Donuts), any critic is bound to endure an enternal struggle at the common task of classification, and quite possibly experience a migraine at the mere prospect of formulating a petty attempt to do so. However, with their debut, full-length release, Old Friends, The Expos are able to successfully bridge the widespread gap between ska, pop, and reggae music, and the eventual exertion is stimulating.
Yet, while to some, Old Friends may appear as an all-encompassing release that is bound to captivate audiences spread across the globe, it's no less than a safe bet to presume that just as many casual watchdogs may write off the effort without a second glance. While the band's debut entity certainly has the potential to dazzle assemblages from vast, musical backgrounds, it comes pre-packaged with guidelines just as any other product. To be more specific, it's immediately evident from any onlookers initial engagement that this release requires not only requires your full, unbiased attention, but equally a selective effort and desire to discover a new found passion. While that bold statement certainly isn't to deter listeners from conceiving the next essential gem in one's collection, it's no exaggeration to relay the fact that one is destined to fall victim to the "I've heard this all before" notion if the record doesn't recieve the essential, compulsatory concentration it deserves. But, on the other hand, to presuppose that a lone critic is correct in his assumptions is absurd, so as always, I urge each and every reader to devise their own personal, individual opinion for themselves.
The album opens itself with "Before Breakfast", a relaxed, reggae-tinged, pop composition. The track, which not only instantaneously showcases lead vocalist Reed Neagle's soulful swoon, is an untarnished, antecedent celebration, and unhesitatingly familiarizes the band's audience with the group's unique method of performance. Furthermore, from the album's introductory demonstration alone, it's discernible that The Expos are resting upon a formula built upon a rhythmic approach, and a mild, temperate one at that. The record's third projection, "Little Red Hook", is undoubtedly the release's most vigorous, wholesome effort, and while it is a tad bit uninspiring to gain the knowledge that the best isn't yet to appear, the song itself is a satisfying retribution, all the same. Additionally, Michael Verrier, the act's organist, consistently performs at a level of utmost veneration, and while his ability is perhaps the most proficient on the aforementioned treasure, he holds a steady, admirable position amongst the band's equally talented lineup.
On "Dans La Rue", the album's seventh output, the group offers critics their primitive exposure to the durable, delicate force of the band's horn section, which consists of trumpeter Max Rubino, trombonist Adam Red, and saxophonist Yvonne Moir. The installment's output here, and on the album, as a whole, is soothing, and observed as an exhilarating breath of fresh air amongst an ever-so-common, unnamed, widespread group of performers who repeatedly fail to present anything even remotely remunerative. However, we are unable to truly identify the record's second topliner until the release nears it's close. On "To Be In Love Under The Rain", Neagle leads the pack through a soul-inspired hymn, and one that proves itself to be leave a critic with any feeling but dissatisfaction. The track's presence, alone, is enough to enthrall any audience, and while the composition's predominant concept is much more familar than a "tried and tested" approach at this point, the ballad is, without question, to be considered memorable.
However, an analyst's postion outlines the duty of presenting an unbiased, unprejudiced overview of content that has fallen victim to microscope, so, as usual, you won't be out of line to expect any less. While The Expos certainly have concocted a bodacious, indelible, debut protrusion, it is by no means perfect. To be fair, a select assortment of characteristics do thwart the album's aim of excellence, but, in no way do I believe the group embarked on an assignment to produce a flawless release. For one, the band fail to offer much in terms of variety on Old Friends, as while it isn't exactly challenging to differentiate one track from another, a lack of alteration in terms of tempos, moods, and conglomeration is everlastingly intact. Furthermore, despite how passionate lead vocalist Reed Neagle's voice may appear, it's a rather demanding chore to swallow for twelve tracks in succession, as his performance offers very little in terms of modification.
But, in the end, The Expos can label themselves thankful that the awe-inspiring, consequential characteristics surrounding their contemporary act far outweigh the slight defects. Old Friends is, without a doubt, a well-constructed, maintained effort from an assortment of exceedingly talented individuals, and while at times the harvest may appear rather dreary, I assure you it is well worth the cost of production. The lyrics are artistic, the melodies are resplendent, and the musicianship is absolutely fabulous. While it is a challenge to part ways and sever ties, bid your Old Friends goodbye, as The Expos are here to embrace your companionship.