Tough times breed resilience, and Montreal's Elizabeth Powell proves herself nothing if not adaptable on Land of Talk's sophomore full-length. Besides dealing with lineup and label changes, Powell had to cancel tours last year to recover from a hemorrhagic vocal polyp. She wrote the album during the six months she wasn't allowed to sing, and the 10 songs ache with sadness and sizzle with boiling-over frustration.
It could be said that Land of Talk brainchild Elizabeth Powell works best when she’s hanging by a thread. As if her personal project were cursed, Powell had been constantly dealing with numerous unforeseen circumstances that gravely put into question the prospect of ever releasing any more music. If a crushed dream of ever experiencing the value of working by collaboration was never to be due to countless band changes, what topped the cake for Powell was a hemorrhaging polyp on her vocal chords.
If you're someone who reads a lot of reviews, you've probably noticed that a lot of albums receive write-ups that are merely positive. If you're not, then it probably seems as if there are lot more glowing or brutal reviews written, but that's just due to the sad fact that reviews with extreme reactions are a lot more interesting to read. Realistically, most artists who go through the trouble of putting out an album and sending it to publications have some merit, and writers tend to listen to stuff that they think they might like.
After just one listen through Cloak and Cipher, the debut LP from indie rock trio Land of Talk, one thing becomes truly apparent: Lead singer Elizabeth Powell should be a force to be reckoned with in rock music for years to come. Powell’s vocal prowess is formidable and will leave you wanting to hear more. Surrounded by a supporting cast of moody electro-folk rock that proves only mildly entertaining on its own, Powell’s voice is clearly the star of the Cloak and Cipher show and she single-handedly brings down the house.
In the DiS review of Land of Talk’s 2007 UK debut, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, the enigmatic critic who will go down in posterity only as Rupert the Bare Nang rambles that while the record 'seems entirely one-dimensional... there’s something subliminal buried under these heard-it-all-before songs, a tiny voice nagging away'. His point was a perceptive one: The appeal of the Canadian three piece’s first release was subtler than its guitar-vocals-bass-drums configuration suggests.
After spending an entire North American tour supporting Broken Social Scene after the release of debut Some Are Lakes, you'd think that Land of Talk would be be eager to dial back the Canadian Indie Power Pop Bombast a little. Indeed, after the group translated some of the raw energy of its breakout EP Applause Cheer Boo Hiss into the more graceful, delicately arranged pieces found on Lakes, it seemed as if Land of Talk were destined to slip into the recesses of comfortable, regal indie rock. But with their follow-up Cloak and Cipher-- a fevered, grandiose record that's both denser and more technically proficient than its predecessor-- the Montreal trio take every opportunity to make their former tourmates proud with this batch of swoon-worthy, anthemic songs.
Land of Talk takes another step away from its raw roots with Cloak and Cipher, with songs and vocals that are downright lush and lavish. Singer/guitarist Elizabeth Powell is joined not only by a new rhythm section, bassist Joseph Yarmush and drummer Andrew Barr, but a host of friends that just happen to be Canadian indie-rock luminaries. The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek contributes an ornate string arrangement to “Goal Time Exposure,” while Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara drums on the expansive “Quarry Hymns.” With an all-star cast like this, it’s not surprising that Cloak and Cipher is beautifully played and layered.
Land of Talk leading lady Elizabeth Powell has managed an impressive feat in her musical career: with her ever-changing line-up of bandmates, she’s made one album and a handful of EPs that are remarkably similar yet are still, somehow, also remarkable on their own merits. There’s a fine line between knowing what works for you and writing the same record, and Powell navigates it with the balance and finesse of a seasoned tight-rope walker. The Canadian trio’s latest record Cloak and Cipher shows this finesse at its finest.