Sloan's soundtrack for the heart
by Camden Joy
Sloan are four boys from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Their third CD -- One Chord
to Another (The Enclave) -- will soon arrive in your store (March 4, to be
exact). No one, it appears, has yet thought ill of them -- reviewers revere
them, Canada canonizes them -- but they just can't "move Stateside product."
Hence you don't hear them on the radio. Hence they are not on a major label
When first you hear Sloan, you think: now that's a melody! And boy, can
they sing! You're thinking the Posies, maybe the Lilys. A few more times
through the CD and you've made out some impressive words. Now that's a
lyric! They've got advice and stories in these songs that merit harder
listenings. Things rhyme in inventive ways. Characterizations are subtly
brought out. Now you're thinking Robyn Hitchcock, early Nick Lowe, maybe
You remember hearing that every Sloan member can play any instrument. As well,
they all contribute songs and take turns singing lead. Not that they are
interchangeable. Chris the bassist, for example, has more the honey-haired
heart-throb voice, whereas Jay the guitarist sings more like the pensive
cast-off. But heck, all these Sloan boys are such smoothies you suspect no pop
vocalists have been so committed since Trip Shakespeare went wherever they
So by now you've listened to "One Chord to Another" maybe six straight times
and the sonic detective in you stirs, noting Sloan's unapologetic borrowings --
arrangements snagged from T. Rex demos, horn charts stolen from Chicago, a
harmony passage directly lifted from the Beau Brummels. In engineering this
stuff, someone has made dead sure the tones and colors, the instruments and
vocals, all refer to wistful yesterdays.
Why? Abruptly it hits you: they've written a concept album about you, using
the songs of your childhood! How thoughtful! There's a song about that girl who
had to play recitals on cue whenever her dad said, and one about that tragic
thing that happened with the "Junior Panthers" (track four) and that other girl
that time, and another about what happened when a girl being taught guitar
suddenly figured out how to go from one chord to another by herself.
So why have these boys done such a sweet thing?
In every fifth-grade class there's always one boy who doesn't understand that
girls must be beat up because they're disgusting. This is the not-very-good boy
whose heart pumps recklessly when seated at lunch beside a girl, whose eyes
brim with tears in gym when no girls are near, who falls in a swoon when the
school play demands they exchange a brief hug. In late autumn afternoons you
see this not-very-good boy balancing girls gently upon his handlebars and
bicycling them to the carnival, where the ferris wheel blurs its landing lights
against the sooty ambers and oranges that make up Cincinnati's sunsets. This
not-very-good boy: was that you? No, that was me: Ohio, the 1970s.
Girls of yore, you oh-so-complicated youths, whereto have you fled?
Small-wristed creatures lost in the madhouses of furrow-browed adults, your
watchful eyes so filled even then with the worries I could never see -- whose
handlebars do you ride now, my troubled ones? No more can we be found tossing
ping-pong balls at the goldfish bowls, pulling up fillings on Bazooka and
banana Now & Laters, feeling the fall chill in our hair as relentlessly we
circled about on the merry-go-round. I remain devastated still from when last
we spoke, the final day of class and your family was moving that summer, and
the smell of blazing asphalt overcame me, in the volleyball courts by the
woodwind shack, as we dismantled our school clarinets, shaking out the spit and
weeping forever goodbyes. Coquette! tease! arbitrager! If I had been a very
good boy, I would have known you were disgusting and beat you up. But never
have I made a very good boy.
Now I get locked in buildings, and made to type numerals in straight columns.
But incessantly I kick across the toys that take me back to you. Are you still
awake, Shaleese, or Celice, or Shelly, or whatever the hell your damned
glorious name -- are you there listening to this new Sloan CD as I imagine?
Yes? Ah, to be sure -- if we had known of Sloan when we were young, perhaps we
would have simply put them in our mouths, for they seem to have a candy center.
But now, dear, it's grown too late for such pleasures. Sloan understand that;
and frankly they're more concerned with what happened to girls like you and to
us not-very-good boys.