Canadian Rockers Show Off Original Sound
One of the most confounding — and comforting — aspects of folk and alt-rock music is their ability to feel familiar and fresh at the same time. More than two decades and a plethora of albums into their career, Canada alt-rockers The Sadies are out with a new LP, Northern Passages, that manages to walk that very line, sounding inspired by and steeped in the previous eras that came before while laying new ground for the band themselves.
In their online bio, The Sadies explain how the psych-folk touches on Northern Passages are no longer homage but part of their fabric. And it rings true in their softer, slower vibes to the punk-edge jams that this is a band that doesn’t fit in one defined era but seems to take it all in, throw it in a blender and come up with something entirely pleasing, well-executed and undeniably thoughtful.
The albums starts mellow with the lush and lovely “Riverview Fog,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a playlist with Simon and Garfunkel or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Ensemble vocals and light, folksy melodies feel temperate, calm and composed.
Then, with nary a transition, “Another Season Again” bursts forth with punk-inspired riffs and harmonies. Its initial rockabilly feel at first comes across as a bit of a surprise compared to the mellow track proceeding it, but The Sadies grind deep into the grooves and stay true to the feel — suddenly, there’s nothing surprising about this, just a good time going on.
Things keep rocking and rolling on “There Are No Words,” a song that does a great job encapsulating what it means to feel a little lost and in awe of a dizzying mind. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll know what to say but right now I have no words,” the song goes, and the band’s general style begins to take shape as one of rock ‘n’ roll with a poet’s heart.
“It’s Easy (Like Walking)” features the seemingly everywhere Kurt Vile on a track that won’t feel out of place in folk and alt-rock playlists, and is sure to give The Sadies some buzz. It’s a mellow song with a little weirdness around the edges, and a smart dose of self-awareness in the lyrics about guitar playing, a universe that the players of The Sadies obviously know well.
“The Elements Song” brings back the first track’s hippie vibe with a little more Woodstock thrown in, like a fuzzy guitar lick or two and long, ringing notes. It’s a fun song, even though the lyrical content is a little dark and foreboding, “We carry on and carry on / we pretend that’s nothing wrong,” the band sings. The song concludes with a real jam band feel, around 1:20 of groovy drums, delay-laden guitars, echoing noises and hypnotic, swirling riffs. It’s a retro sound, one that you might think you’ve heard in a movie montage somewhere of hippies trying acid or dancing in a field somewhere.
But the next track, “Through Strange Eyes,” feels like more tried-and-true folk, with ballad-style storytelling that features a narrator questioning the motives behind his and another’s lives. It’s a haunting song, a sad song, and a song that continues the album’s emotional heart.
Throughout Northern Passages, The Sadies prove their comfort level and ability to shift between genres. They go from fiddle-infused on “God Bless the Infidels,” a wry and rootsy kiss-off of sorts, to the following track, “The Good Years,” which is an all-too-specific look into a relationship gone awry.
At 11 tracks, seven of which are under three minutes, Northern Passages is a breeze of a listen, but a worthwhile journey. Despite its short length — or perhaps because of it — it’s hardly monotonous; instead it ebbs and flows from its more mellow moments to its more aggressive notions. Loyal fans of The Sadies are sure to enjoy hearing their new work and tracing the roots of their recent inspiration. And, for new listeners, it’s a thoughtful listen with a little something for everyone.