Pilot Speed - Wooden Bones
Record Label: Wind-Up Records
Release Date: April 28, 2009
For reasons unknown, the Canadian indie-rock band Pilot Speed has gone largely unnoticed by the major music media outlets. After releasing the terrific disc Into the West in 2006, the band still found themselves on the outside looking in. After an exhaustive two years of touring, the quartet came together in 2008 and laid the groundwork for what would become their fourth album, Wooden Bones. Now ten years into their career, this Canadian band has put together a highly memorable, undeniable melodic-rock masterpiece. Self-described by vocalist Todd Clark as an album chock full of "art songs with hooks," Wooden Bones was produced by the ever capable but vastly underrated Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, The Hives, Throwing Muses, Elvis Costello) and his work behind the knobs should be commended. This is an album that is impossible to put down and even harder to dislike.
Beginning with the jangly opener "Put the Phone Down," Clark immediately allows listener to hear his assured, collected vocals that never try to do too much. As a song it's as commercial and catchy as one could hope for as Clark pipes, "Please put the phone down, put the phone down, lie with me tonight" against knee-rapping tambourines. It's undeniably melodic chorus is followed up by the triumphant mid-tempo drive of the ringing "Light You Up," another effort that screams radio airplay. On the heels of that is "Bluff" another should-be single that begins as a sparse, piano confessional that coasts its way into a full-throated, arena-ready ballad. The album moves along with little to no missteps, from the percussive effects of "Up on the Bridge," to the 1960s mellotron vibe of "What is Real, What is Doubt," to the church organ intro of "Today I Feel Sure." One of the album's more memorable songs, the title track, is a slow-motion lament about the fragility of life and the fleeting nature of the human struggle. What begins soft and quiet erupts into a full-armed powerhouse that's visceral, taut and craggy.
Clark, a native New Zealander, has the kind of knack for hooks and observation that has allowed Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody to coast to commercial success, and one can surmise that Clark and Pilot Speed aren't too far away from the spotlight. Abandoning the five-plus minute epics that dotted the horribly underrated Into the West, Pilot Speed doesn't have a song on here that exceeds four-and-a-half minutes. This calculated decision by Clark and his bandmates was an attempt to craft songs "that people could hold onto."
The fact of the matter is writing appealing pop songs in today's musical climate is not easy. More often than not music consumers want songs with dense, multi-layered intricacies and a high-level of music theory. When they don't want that, they crave cookie-cutter pop ditties with shallow arrangements, trite lyrics and blandl musicianship. Is there such thing as a happy medium? A safer middleground? Pilot Speed seems to understand the latter and this album proves that. At its core these songs are simple arrangements of verse-chorus-verse that are never splashy, over-the-top or aggrandized. They are simply melodic-rock offerings made for driving with the windows down. Some may call it safe, but they're the ones missing out.