I first encountered the brilliance of Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell when I wrote a review of their album, Surreal Auteur, created in their incarnation as Allegories. That record made it to number twelve in my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Then I received the album Everyone All at Once, created by their more recent band The Rest, by accident. I wrote a review of it. It went on to occupy the number three position in my Top 40 Albums of 2009. I took a blog hiatus, and The Rest produced a weirdly wondrous EP, including a cover of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat,” called The Cried Wolf, which came with a book: a twisted retelling of the cautionary tale of lupine lies, naming the tale’s eponymous boy Hans Horatio Stickypants, and casting him as a con artist who inhabits places such as Souplandia and Dragon City. After three years in the making and unmaking, including the untimely death of their friend and producer, The Rest have now released their second LP Seesaw; they unveiled a track each week leading up to the album release date on June 19. When a song was introduced, it was available to download for free until the next song was posted. They still often sound like a Canadian version of the Scottish band Meursault, Bentley’s vocals also sometimes careening into tones similar to Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls. Seesaw evokes perpetual movement, a coordinated flow that feels effortless and dreamy. Bentley’s golden-throated vocals ululate with panoramic abandon and punctuate lines with ecstatic sobs that are uplifting rather than mawkish. Whereas Everyone All at Once seemed slightly more shambolic and more minimal in arrangement, Seesaw is urgent, ambitious, and playful, and Bentley’s voice becomes more abstract as lyrics become less distinct in an atmospheric turn back to the language-defying Allegories.
Opening track “Who Knows” is the perfect example of the exhilarating end of The Rest’s sound spectrum. It begins as a distant oscillation that blossoms into an easy, but exciting conversation. The melodic lines tilt back and forth around a humming fulcrum, sometimes stretching to arc and crisscross their crescendos like well-timed fireworks or a beautifully constructed fountain. Bentley’s reedy fragility gently nudges rhetorical questions along before gliding beyond them into the stratosphere. For “Hey! For Horses,” the rhythm picks up and bolts in syncopated jubilance. There are small crests repeated over a ticking, light percussion, turning an idiom about politeness into a rollicking high-speed chase. Then the ballad “Always On My Mind” elevates shoegaze beyond the dense cloud of distorted guitar into lighter territory as Bentley tenderly sings of “incredible mercies” and the simplicity of human touch.
In the carnivalesque “Laughing Yearning,” guitars mimic steel drums, and Bentley belts his way through the months like the flag-bearer of a celebratory procession. The song hints at Vampire Weekend, which of course means a debt to Paul Simon; however, The Rest casts the style in more ethereal terms. Making the cinematic quality of their music even more pertinent, their track “John Huston” continues the theme of yearning as Bentley addresses the director with passionate pleas, and this sweeping sound continues in the slower “Could Be Sleeping,” which also features the epic expanse of Bentley’s high register. The most subtle of the songs on this album is “The Lodger,” which reverberates with hymn-like serenity. Of course even this lover’s lullaby eventually pushes itself into elegant peaks, quivering and hanging amidst feedback. Returning to an appropriately youthful tempo and flourishes of organ, “Young and Innocent” flirts with childish and adolescent exuberance by playfully using the introduction of The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” and satirizing “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. Its bracing, almost puppyish, pace and controlled cacophony reminds me a bit of early Los Campesinos, too.
Despite the fact “The Last Day” begins like an angelic solo, the song unfolds into a rushing bittersweetness propelled by an insistent kick drum, shimmers of cymbals, and entwining guitar figures that seem to build arborescent patterns in the air. Though Bentley begins the track with the lines “Glory days/And I know it’s the end, but I’m tired/On top of the hill/the town below is on fire,” the song is anything but fatigued and flagging. Energy continues to fizz and pop until the music drops out behind the faded echoes of vocals. The final track, “Slumber,” casts back to the first half of the twentieth century with its lazy ride cymbal and strains of violins. Like a boyish crooner, Bentley sings the starry-eyed refrain of “how am I supposed to slumber?” Just as songs like “Young and Innocent” and “Hey! For Horses” appear gleefully to mock youth while imitating its most exciting bits, “Slumber” shuffles its feet in an almost lugubrious salute to awkward school dances and the obsession of teenage dreams and tear-stained pillows.
Seesaw is available in several formats on their Bandcamp page, including a limited edition on clear 180gram vinyl (it comes with a one-of-a-kind handwritten note about the songs and/or recording experience by individual members of The Rest). This latest record from The Rest is anything but static and at rest. Sleep and the act of reclining figure often in the lyrics, but Seesaw is definitely more about the fight against slumber and reverie and the rebound into breathless wakefulness. They seize every dimension through their sound, teetering acrobatically out on limbs. The balancing act of these musical and lyrical dynamics works as a series of cantilevers, crafting seemingly impossible space and suspension throughout the record. Seesaw is a frontrunner for my 2012 list. Welcome back.