‘Sunny’ is a strange word when used in the context of music. Whether intentionally or not the term implies a sort of vapid cheeriness that any self-respecting artist would take care to avoid. Family Band, however, gracefully redefines the term on their new album Family Band ‘15. Released on independent Montreal label, Egg Paper Records this past September, these seven songs are a skillful marriage of electronic music, rock music, Caribbean music, and probably a lot of other types of music too. Think of it like a meeting between the Beach Boys, Vampire Weekend and maybe a few members of Devo.
What is most unique about this album is the way that Family Band merges both the digital and analog aspects of their instrumentation. One minute it’s drum machines, the next it’s hand drums, and often it’s both. The blend is done so well that neither feels unnatural or out of place. Standouts in this vein include “While We’re Still Young,” which features a kaleidoscope of different rhythms and a monologue that cleverly subverts a youthful obsession with clubbing and nightlife. “High Life” is one of the most ‘beach-y’ songs on the record, yet it still feels somewhat digital — reminiscent of a video game or a PowerPoint slideshow of your friend’s vacation to Hawaii. It evokes a bizarre sort of nostalgia well suited to the 21st century.
If there is one risk that Family Band ‘15 runs it’s that of coming across as an unfocused patchwork rather than as one cohesive unit. You may not need complete uniformity in order to make something good. But if such a line exists, Family Band gets close to crossing it with their unexpected tone shifts and disparate song structures. What seems to make it work, however, is their tactful rhythm section. The bass lines are solid and memorable, and the layers of percussion never lose focus. With this sort of anchor the diverse arrangements can serve the songs rather than detracting from them. Family Band is free to throw all their whimsy on top of these rhythms without losing an essential forward momentum.
In short, the undeniable, abundant sunniness heard on this record is something both unfamiliar and welcoming. As a Vancouver winter approaches, the strange rays of Family Band ’15 could be your best defense against this pervasive West Coast greyness.