There aren’t many more consistent active bands than Canadian power-pop heroes Sloan. For nearly 30 years, the same four guys—Chris Murphy, Jay Ferguson, Andrew Scott and Patrick Pentland—have been cranking out two- to five-ish-minute pop songs built solidly out of basic rock ‘n’ roll instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums) and dressed up with memorable vocal melodies. All 11 Sloan albums are at least “pretty good,” while some of them (1994’s Twice Removed and 1996’s One Chord To Another, especially) are terrific.
Sloan is a band of occasional highs and few true lows, which is remarkable considering each of the four members write their songs separately, with each gent taking center stage in turn. Only once since 1992 has a Sloan record not featured at least one song by all four men.
For their 12th album, Sloan decided to go even more democratic than usual: 12 features three songs each from Murphy, Ferguson, Scott and Pentland. The result is their best effort since at least 2008’s Parallel Play, and possibly even since the last century.
A killer opener is a key component of any great Sloan album, and Murphy’s “Spin Our Wheels” qualifies, with its uncomplicated guitars, classic-rock backing vocals and thrilling chorus. It’s no “The Good In Everyone” (track one on One Chord and one of the greatest opening tracks ever), but it’s a big ol’ hook with a sharp barb that’s hard to shake once its sunk in.
Other crunchy highlights on 12 include Pentland’s “Have Faith” and “The Day Will Be Mine,” two songs about depression, both with effusive arrangements that underline their main message: Hang in there, things are going to get better. Murphy’s “Wish Upon a Satellite” is a classic dreamy eyed sugartune that recalls the late Tommy Keene, while Scott’s “Year Zero” swims in strummy Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend sensibility. You’ll want to drape yourself in those elongated oohs, aahs and harmonies.
Crunchy rockers are just part of Sloan’s DNA, of course. Scott’s other two contributions—“Gone For Good” and “44 Teenagers”—float in on thick, pink, slow-moving clouds carrying ‘70s vibes and dusky harmonies. The former painfully details a shattered marriage and the latter name checks Canadian music legend Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, who died last fall. And then there’s Ferguson, ever the purveyor of sprightly pop songs. His strongest effort here is “Right to Roam,” a sparkling song so bouncy you might worry it’s going to crack his crystalline voice.
Same goes for the harmony-heavy “Essential Services,” which the band has called a “centerpiece” on 12. In it, Sloan seems to speak directly to the listener, acknowledging the symbiotic relationship between a cult band and its most loyal fans:
Still every now and then I’m reminded that you
Could wave goodbye and then vanish from view
Essential services are counting on you
At this point, Sloan does indeed feel like an essential service: something we take for granted, like electrical power, paved streets or curbside recycling. Thanks to 12, then, for reminding us of their considerable skill in addition to their longevity.