Release Date: Jul 22, 2014
Record label: Paper Bag Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Noise Pop
PS I Love You's third album is full of awesome surprises. The Kingston guitar-and-drums indie rock duo of Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson have taken a more dynamic approach to production and songwriting than on past records, keeping the guitar riffs bittersweetly heavy and the vocals awkwardly inward-turned. Depression and personal battles still make up the lyrical content.
Guitar heroes are traditionally lame. Whether it's some cheeseball sporting a quad-guitar in a video cassette of the popular ‘80s guitar series Hot Licks, a traveling member of the G3 tour (complete with carefully positioned stage fans that accentuate the innate drama held within their flowing locks) or, perhaps more contemporary, a 13 year-old youtube shred phenomena with an axe sculpted in the least ergonomic shape possible, it’s nearly impossible to view these kinds of people as anything more than purveyors of tacky musical schlock. However, this is precisely what makes PS I Love You’s Paul Saulnier stand out to great effect.
The breathless peak on PS I Love You’s third LP is “Afraid of the Light,” a psych-prog oddity that kicks off with a blaring, harmonized choir and concludes with a lavish display of guitar fireworks. “I feel so relieved,” sings frontman-axeman Paul Saulnier, “Now I don’t worry about a thing / Not any little thing / when I feel that breeze through my fingers. ” The Canadian duo’s last album, 2012’s Death Dreams, was a kaleidoscopic black hole of mortality and misery—its artful title track was inspired by a “death march band” from one of Saulnier’s nightmares.
Canadian twosome PS I Love You do a fine line in rousing, observant indie rock, driven by frontman Paul Saulnier’s considerable gifts as a guitarist and writer. To date, their songs have come across as lo-fi paeans to smalltown ennui, but there are differences with this third album. Saulnier left home (Kingston, Ontario) for Toronto and hit a proper studio with drummer Benjamin Nelson to create a record that’s thicker and less forlorn than their previous two, but still elemental, clever and full of surprising left turns.
The third long-player from Kingston, Ontario's Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson, For Those Who Stay is a shimmering, cacophonous, and often glorious mess of an album that subverts the traditional no frills/in your face rock approach of the guitar-and-drum duo with a heady shot of spectral, feedback-driven shoegaze and nervy post-hardcore, resulting in something akin to a radio dial stuck between Sunny Day Real Estate and Disintegration-era Cure. That said, for all of its textural ambiance, PS I Love You have crafted an undeniably pop-centric slab of modern noise rock that gives a tip of the hat to manic confectioners of the past like the Pixies, Pavement, Weezer, and Jesus and Mary Chain, and that tour-T-shirt-and-empty-juice-box early- to mid-'90s vibe permeates the majority of the proceedings, even when the pair try to subvert it, as is the case on the taut and compressed, yet undeniably ramshackle "Limestone Radio. " On standout cuts like "Advice," "More of the Same," "In My Mind at Last," and the epic title track, Saulnier and Nelson conjure up a captivating web of sound, pairing thunderous percussion and gossamer-like acoustic guitars with gargantuan, heavily distorted electrics, with Saulnier channeling his inner Black Francis/Carey Mercer, pacing like a caged animal/street preacher and waiting to see what the net brings in, but even the more minimalist pieces, like the bucolic "Bad Brain Day" and the cavernous "Afraid of the Light" manage to make an impression, mostly because, like all of the songs on For Those Who Stay, they manage to keep one foot firmly in the light and the other hoof firmly in the dark.
Paul Saulnier can be pretty hard on himself. When he sings, he's a raw nerve, caterwauling like an electric guitar solo about feeling like a skid. "I'm sorry I forgot about that thing I was supposed to do last week," he cries during "In My Mind At Least," and everything you need to know about how gutted he feels is right there.There are moments of purity and charm and poetry here that are rare.
PS I Love You's third album is scrappy and self-deprecating guitar rock that often finds Paul Saulnier freaking out about his inability to handle life’s uncertainties. This is an act which actually requires a great deal of resilience and self-belief; after all, this kind of music doesn’t find itself on the receiving end of a lot of outside validation in 2014. This circularity of struggling for struggle’s sake is even more pronounced in the title of For Those Who Stay; it can be read a show of confidence and gratitude to listeners who’ve stuck with this unfashionable, workmanlike band over the past eight years, as well as an acknowledgment that it’s hard to stick with an unfashionable, workmanlike band for eight years.
When For Those Who Stay gets big, it gets enormous. Take the opening minute of “Afraid of the Light”: Paul Saulnier howls to the roof while gospel harmonies and titanic drum crashes flood the air behind him. “I’m afraid of the light,” he screams. The moment soars unlike any other in PS I Love You’s catalog.
There are interesting parallels to be drawn between the new, third album from Canada’s PS I Love You and Blue Öyster Cult. In 1979, BÖC released an album called Mirrors, which was an attempt at a more pop friendly sound. They replaced their long-time producer who had produced records by Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent, added female backing vocals to the odd track, and had the occasional acoustic guitar number.
At many moments, Canadian rock duo PS I Love You’s latest album, For Those Who Stay, owes as much to bands like the Smiths, Pixies and the Cure as it does to its own indie rock contemporaries. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Paul Saulnier’s signature shrieky-yet-contained vocal stylings and his diverse array of guitar tones that somehow still fall neatly into a consistent sound really go a long way towards helping this record establish itself. The components of a For Those Who Stay song are pretty predictable however: fuzzy and/or distorted guitars, five to seven-minute song lengths, a straight drum beat, a pseudo-anthemic chorus in which Saulnier sings the name of the track in some funky little way, maybe a few synths swirling around and maybe an experimental intro that crashes into one of those standard alternative guitar hero-type riffs that Saulnier loves so much.
When Kingston, Ontario duo PS I Love You – comprised of vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Paul Saulnier alongside drummer Benjamin Nelson – first found international acclaim with their 2010 debut album Meet Me At The Muster Station, it was with a sense of vitality that was hard to ignore; a breath of bitingly fresh air. Its ten discordant fragments of gnarly fuzz rock were unrelenting in their ability to turn heads and unafraid to turn up a few noses too. What set that record apart was its crippling urgency; the sense you got that in this very moment the music was vital, that the world might implode if it wasn’t allowed to burn itself out naturally – quite literally in the case of apocalyptic early single “2012”.