The Burdocks are aiming big with their fourth release. Opting out of their do-it-yourself attitude, the Halifax veterans have put themselves in the competent hands of Black Mountain Music for broader release and promotion. The table is set for them to collect their dues: they only need to put forth an album that surpasses almost eight years of relentless work. Should be easy, right?
Well, for the most part, What We Do Is Secret delivers. From the very first guitar tickles in bewildering opener “Snakes”, it’s obvious that the band has well-developed chemistry. The song effortlessly dips in and out of time-signatures and melodies, never losing a step, introducing the deep well of genres the Burdocks draw from. Not just any band can pull off prog-rock, dance, and lo-fi in the course of five minutes without sounding like a skipping record.
Lyrically, the music is in very clever hands. Members Christian Simmons and Seth Smith trade off on microphone duty throughout the record, occasionally pushing against their vocal ranges with charming, Stephen Malkmus-like voice cracks, or frantically spitting lyrics like now-defunct Washington sweethearts Q And Not U. Their words are a constant combination of smart-ass wit (check “Turn of the Century” with the spastic recital of “We were always too fucking good for it/Now we’re too fucking good for each other”) and ironic juxtaposition (like the Sonic Youth-esque “Enemy” with the eerie assurance of “everything’s under control” just as the music spins completely out of it like a mangled helicopter).
But the album falters at crucial times. It is at no point unbearable, but there are moments when the listener will simply stop paying attention, and for a band with ambition, that’s a dangerous place to be. The second third of the album suffers most, particularly “Call Girl vs. Call Centre,” which, though mercifully brief and quickly redeemed, offers no improvement to the record, and doesn’t compliment the Burdocks’ apparent intent: national attention.
Inevitably, there’s clearly a reason why they’ve outlasted their peers in the hollowed-out Halifax scene, but with Canadian music being what it is, after four records and eight years, I’m just not fully convinced they have what it takes to stack up.