It’s been nearly a decade since Justin Russo formed his Broken Social Scene-styled collaborative, the Silent League. Back in the late ’90s, Justin Russo was splitting his time between backing up his older brother’s band Hopewell and touring as a keyboardist for Mercury Rev. That meant he was on board during both bands’ most fertile periods, contributing live or in the studio to several landmark albums. That same creative drive found on Deserter’s Songs and Contact informs Russo’s own band, the Silent League.
That’s not to say the Silent League’s third album, But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker, sounds like Mercury Rev or Hopewell. Actually, Caretaker doesn’t even sound too much like what we’ve come to expect from a Silent League album. It’s noticeably slower, or at least it feels that way, than either of the bands previous two albums. There’s a malaise hanging over each song, making the album feel significantly closer to a Grandaddy album than one by the Silent League. Actually, Grandaddy is a natural comparison for Caretaker, as the majority of that band’s albums share the same uncomfortable sense of something eerie creeping up around the corner that perforates through Caretaker. That doesn’t mean that this is a concept album, but it does have the feel of one; the songs really do feel like they are tied together.
This feeling is not more prominent than on the cover of Electric Light Orchestra’s robot-loving “Yours Truly, 2095.” The lead vocal is sung through a vocoder, and while the presence of a vocoder is normally irritable, it is well suited for the back from the future theme of the song. While the song does not depart greatly from the original, it does fit nicely into the Caretaker and perhaps even provides a little break from the low-tempo that defines most of the songs on the album.
Russo has crafted an album that doesn’t give up the goods right away. Instead, listeners will be forced to dig through the album for the gems. Keeping with that, the highlight track, “Here’s A Star,” doesn’t come in until halfway through the album. The melody slowly works its way into the listener’s head and doesn’t leave for quite some time. Most significantly, it’s on this track that the band’s use of orchestration reaches its zenith. It’s not there as decoration, but it’s not overwhelming the song. “Here’s A Star” sounds like it was meant to be performed this way, and that’s the kind of Orc-Pop the band have been searching for their entire career.
The songwriting is strong and the performances are individually great as well. However, the album really does drag its feet from time to time, making it difficult to take in at once. With an album that clocks in at almost 50 minutes, a lot of attention needs to be paid to the pacing of the album, and that does not appear to be the case here. Many great songs fall out of focus because they blend too well with its neighbors. Although simply reordering the tracks would not fix this problem, it would help a fair amount. Songs like “Little I” and “The Ohio Winter Conventioners” could be taken out to aid the flow of the album, and Caretaker would be better off for it. In the end, these are really minor complaints about what really is a strong album by an ever improving band. This is a direction that sounds promising for the Silent League, and in due time we’ll see if they can pull all the pieces together. They’re so tantalizingly close.