Let’s give it up for Plants and Animals and their truly ambitious efforts. Starting out as an instrumental act in Canada, they eventually added vocals and tweaked their sound into a dreamy blend of folk and prog rock that couldn’t have worked any better on their debut LP, Parc Avenue, one of the best albums of 2008. It clearly heightened confidence, both in the ability of the group as well as in their opportunity to take chances on a follow-up record, which manifested itself a couple years later in the form of La La Land.
On the surface, La La Land has a very similar tone to their other album. There’s plenty of room within each of the songs for the band to take its time, let the ideas stew and gain momentum, and eventually blend into a swirling tower of instrumental jam band dissolutions and indie-rock melody. The main difference here is the emphasis on the breakdown rather than the path leading it there. Parc Avenue had more to do with the introductions to the songs, and firmly rooted most of the album within a solid opening song structure before letting it expand and explode within the solos and entros. It’s the other way around here; there’s a focus on the exploration of the song before it even gets a chance to develop.
This leads to repetition and, unfortunately, some fairly blasé moments on the record. “Swinging Bells”, “Undone Melody” and “Game Shows” upon first listen sound like the same song reprised several times. Minimal and melancholy, they either build towards the next, more-upbeat track or a gigantic solo before fizzling out five minutes later.
This isn’t the case in other more successful chunks of the record; “Tom Cruz” opens the album with flair, fuzzy guitars over tentative vocals and a churning percussion section with lyrics akin to the debut’s: “My enemies are helping me… My enemies are changing me…” This is a sort of power the less-assertive debut might have strayed away from, while the new incarnation of the band, at times, revels in it. “American Idol” and “The Mama Papa” also rock unquestionably hard, reaching levels Plants and Animals hadn’t hit before, but are welcome shots of energy in the middle of what otherwise can be a bit of a drag.
The good news is, Plants and Animals haven’t strayed far from their art. They’re not making boring music because they’ve bored themselves, they seem to be feeling out new ways of expression. Taking the less inspiring music for what it is yields a greater appreciation of the bombastic, and the record as a whole; if the LP is a band’s journey, then Plants and Animals seem to be taking the long way home, through roads others might find tedious or unnecessary. Regardless of the filler here, the band still shows masterful tendencies, such as the closer “Jeans Jeans Jeans”, which seems to finally put aside the segregation of the song and it’s exploration in a mini-Zeppelin blast of rock and colorful guitar work. This is a monstrously-important band with a not-so monstrously-important record, and put in context can be a solid experience.