I am going to admit right off the bat, this was a hard album for me to review. I have loved Immaculate Machine since the moment I saw them open for the New Pornographers (even before knowing about the two bands connections) and was eagerly anticipating High On Jackson Hill. But after digesting it, I almost can't help but almost feel that it is a transition album. Just after it came out, drummer Luke Kozlowski left the group and they picked up a couple new members.
The album itself also feels... off. While the previous three LPs all felt balanced, this one feels very Brooke-heavy. Which, don't get me wrong, isn't really a bad thing. I like Brooke Gallupe. He is a talented musician, a very fine songsmith and his voice on this album is better than it's ever been. But it was the interaction with him and Kathryn Calder (part-time New Pornographer and long lost niece of Carl Newman) that made me love the band. It's the reason why Dear Confessor is among my favourite songs. The way their voices intertwine, and how the verses play off each other... I find this album does not have nearly as much as that, with most of the time Calder being backup vocals. Heck, even the awesome painted fold-out poster (done by the new bassist and sister, Caitlin Gallupe) that comes with it only contains Brooke amongst the trees.
That being said, the album does succeed in being quite versatile. Don't build A Bridge is a great opening track and does have a fair amount of duelling vocals, while the next two songs are more individual with Gallupe's Thank Me Later and You Destroyer, the only track with a strong Calder focus; a very laid back and folksey number that comes together seamlessly. Sound The Alarms is the first single and can only be described as anthemic, with more great contrast between their voices. The next few songs are almost all Brooke, with He's A Biter rocks it out while I Know It's Not as Easy is Brooke's chance to give in to his folky side, almost a companion to You Destroyer. Primary Colours then brings everything back for the most lavish track on the album, with scant R&B influences and sing-along chorus. Neighbours Don't Mind reminds us they haven't forgotten how to crank it up. It also almost sounds like a counterpart to Nothing Ever Happens from the last album, Fables. Compare the previous song about being stuck in a crumby apartment: "or else we get it much too loud / the neighbours bang the walls and shout" with the new songs: "But the neighbours won't mind if we turn it up a little"
If I Know It's Not as Easy was a companion to You Destroyer, then And It Was is the culmination of both the songs, a soft and heartbreaking duet between the two vocalists, the first chorus belonging to Brooke, the second Kathryn and them sharing the final one.
Brooke takes centre stage again with You Got Us Into This Mess before the album closes with two of my favourites from it, the awesomely titled Only Love You For Your Car which is a great poppy and bouncy tune. Luke's main contribution to the album, Blurry Days, seems an odd choice for closing the album, however, since it is probably the song that most reminds me of prior albums, with all three members seemingly working as one unit. It almost seems like a "goodbye" to the old Immaculate Machine.
One major reason -- aside from laziness -- that I review albums month(s) after they are released is to give me time to be with the album, so I am not just making snap decisions. Had I reviewed this just after it came out, I would have been much more harsh on it. Since I have given it time, it has grown on me. I still think it is not the strongest Immaculate Machine album, but I also think I would have liked it a lot better had it been a Brooke Gallupe solo project. I know that he was doing some solo shows before the album came out, and with Calder busy with the New Pornographers, it is no surprise he took centre stage for the album. It is a very solid album, and shows a vast amount of growth in the band, in Gallupes songwriting abilities and their ability to pull off any style they try. And I want to reiterate again, it's not that I don't like Brooke, or that I like Kathryn better. If the album were more Calder-heavy, I would like to think I'd have the same reaction. For me, Immaculate Machine works -- or worked -- better as a unit.
For all my complaints, though, I really did like the album. And while I may miss the "old" Immaculate Machine, I am very intrigued in seeing how the band grows, as this albums proves anything they decide to tackle will, if nothing else, be interesting and compelling.
Download And It Was
Download Only Love You For Your Car
Download Blurry Days