Label: Nine Mile Records
from Vancouver BC
Contact DetailsCaleb Stull
The October 2009 release of The Hidden Names by Nine Mile Records act Parlour Steps should finally put a spotlight on one of Canada’s most intriguing bands.
“If there is an overall theme to be distilled it would be of the never-ending search for meaning and connection in today’s world,” Caleb Stull, the band’s founder, chief songwriter, singer and guitarist says of the album.
The keen intelligence, the ambitious ideas, the pride in tackling heady, cerebral concepts that has characterized the band from Vancouver, British Columbia, from the get-go remain intact. But a newfound musical confidence gives a carefree flow to the band’s music, with a vivacious presence and palpable warmth.
Lauded by the Canadian press, Parlour Steps has at various times evoked comparisons to the brainy pop of XTC, the drama of Arcade Fire, the lyrical focus of Sufjan Stevens and the snappy rhythmic grip of the Pixies. But it is Caleb Stull’s relentless curiosity and daring songwriting that separates the quartet from the indie-rock pack.
The opening track, the buoyant “As the World Turned Out,” for example, attempts to explore “our laughable, small- lensed grip on ourselves,” while “Miraculous,” says Stull, “riffs on our nihilistic self-absorption, so woefully out of place in such a massive universe as ours.”
Stull calls “Soft Lies,” “a simple love song about getting mired in too much self-awareness,” while the closing tune “Mad Mad Day” he describes as detailing “our common alienation of ‘others,’ and our general suspicions that people different from us couldn’t possibly want and need the same things out of life. The end line, repeated over and over, is really a call to arms, to never let others decide your values for you, to never let ignorance and pride lead the way.”
The Hidden Names is the lovely and logical successor to Ambiguoso, 2008’s previous full-length for Nine Mile Records and the first Parlour Steps album, (after three previous albums, including 2005’s acclaimed The Great Perhaps) to get a full United States release.
“The confidence on The Hidden Names comes from the rather successful experiments in pop simplicity of our work on Ambiguoso,” says Stull, who also produces the band’s work. “The emotion is closer to the surface. We feel less and less concerned with coming off as cool and calculated and have decided, instead, to just write simpler pop tunes.”
The Hidden Names also benefits from a winning chemistry in and out of the studio, on stage and off. It is the first album to feature Alison Maira on keyboards. Joining singer/guitarist Stull, guitarist Rees Haynes, and drummer Robert Linton, Parlour Steps now has the ripest, fullest musicality and emotional balance it has ever had.
“Alison is an excellent player,” Stull says. “Introducing her and her keyboard work has lent us a lyricism, a beauty we didn’t have before.”
What makes The Hidden Names stand out is that the five-piece band contributes with single-minded energy to what Stull calls “the greater good of the song.” The greater good of the song: If there is any commandment that defines Parlour Steps, it is yielding to the greater good of the song. That is something the world discovered in 2005, when “Thieves of Memory” won second place in the rock category in International Songwriter’s Competition, an annual event which that year drew some 15,000 entries.
But that was then, and Parlour Steps are not ones to rest on past achievements. In those days, the band got much mileage out of Stull’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek coinage of the phrase “thought rock” to describe the band’s music. Though Caleb is certainly unapologetic about the accuracy or usefulness of the phrase in gaining some attention for Parlour Steps, he is quite content to let fade away what he acknowledges may have been a “rather pretentious sounding conceit.”
“While I would love to pretend the lyrics evoked some sort of cerebral itch in our listeners, all the while our music was becoming more intuitive and visceral and ultimately less cerebral,” Stull says. “To paraphrase Zadie Smith, we have tried to bolster a rhythm that does not exclude thinking.” Listen to “The Hidden Names” and you’ll snap your fingers, shake your body, twitch your leg, and soon enough, most tracks will have you dancing – without even thinking about it.
--Wayne Robins (Music Critic & former Senior Review Editor, Billboard Magazine)
|As The World Turned Out|
|Ring That Bell|
|Caleb Stull||vocals / guitars|
|Julie Bavalis||vocals / bass|