Just when you thought Montreal was fully saturated with pop-driven folk-rock, Plants and Animals drop a sophomore release of rock-inspired pop-folk, and it sounds entirely refreshing. If like myself, you missed out on their highly lauded debut, Parc Avenue, your initial take on La La Land will be that it sounds like yet another new band that's hoping you've never heard Television before. The repeating staccato of a dry guitar seems far too formulaic for this type of music, and you need to ride it out a little before the album plays any track that doesn't sound like a lost b-side in your iPod shuffle. Yet wanting and seemingly forcing you to go deep with them, La La Land continues to expand on each cut until you're fully immersed in a classic side two of post-punk crescendo epics.
Without knowing where things are going to end up, opener "Tom Cruz" only forebodes of more stagnant run-ons of melancholy self-indulgence. The first few songs do little to distance Plants and Animals' sound from any of their more successful contemporaries, (fellow Montrealers Arcade Fire included) and it seems highly unlikely that you would ever listen to this album over say the latest Modest Mouse release. It's not until halfway through "Undone Melody," the fourth track, that the band reveals their true power: non-cluttered fuzz-pedal symphonics. As long as this three-piece sticks to the epic builds, they'll find themselves a comfortable spot among their sonically-referenced peers.
"Game Shows" and "Fake It" follow this same pattern of orchestrated climax, with the latter moving in such unexpected and welcome turns that it's hard to believe it's the same band from the first half of the album. "Game Shows" drifts and climbs on a repeating vocal line of "it's so good/it's so easy" and again highlights the notion that their songs with lofty, cycling lyrics tend to work better than their attempts at the standard verse/chorus structure. That is, other than "The Mama Papa," an anthemic charger that is sure to bring up more CBGB's references, but this time they're fully justified, far more so than Vampire Weekend's "A-Punk" ever should have been.
Things settle down near the end with "Future From the 80's," a Byrne-esque breath of lament that manages to make the first half of the album make a lot more sense in hindsight. Plants and Animals made a valiant effort to compose a unified album, but in the end it's only the strongest tunes you'll find yourself returning to. Albeit returning again and again.