Land of Talk could never be described as particularly guileless; the band’s defining characteristic is probably front woman Liz Powell’s ability to capture a sound so sweetly ambivalent. But Life After Youth marks a new chapter, exactly as the title suggests, as the band enters a darker realm, full of longing for a simpler time and an acute awareness of what has been left behind.
Life After Youth, the band’s third album, comes after a seven-year-gap. In that time, Liz Powell has experienced bouts of fatigue, a vocal polyp and a computer crash resulting in the loss of what might have been a third record, come much sooner. But most significantly, her father suffered from a stroke, landing him in the hospital for six months. One thing that soothed her father was listening to classical, ambient, and Japanese tonkori music. This inspired Powell to create her own music in a whole new way, building tracks from synth beds rather than her guitar. Similar to how Trent Reznor used spa music as the foundation for the Gone Girl soundtrack, on the surface Life After Youth sounds heavenly and ethereal, but there’s something foreboding seeping up from underneath.
This thematic string shines most on album-standout “Inner Lover.” Hypnotic and intoxicating, the song is the most obvious reflection of the new sound. It’s darker and debatably, stronger than anything the band has done before. “Inner Lover” bears teeth that retract afterwards, and nothing feels quite as sharp through the rest of the album but it’s still a strong, and welcomed, return.
The nostalgia inherent in Life After Youth feels appropriate, as it hearkens back to the golden days of Canadian indie, of Stars, Metric, Arcade Fire (before they catapulted to powerhouse levels of fame), and Broken Social Scene (who is also making a comeback this summer). There’s something that these bands offered that’s been so dearly missed on the scene, a distinctive sound that set them apart from their U.S. contemporaries. Life After Youth feels like a relic from these days, albeit slightly updated.
Doubtlessly inspired by her father, there’s an urgency throughout Life After Youth to grasp life in the moment. “Life’s not long, why don’t you live it?” Powell sings in “Loving.” Or, more brazenly in “Spiritual Reclamation”: “life/it slips by/it rushes past/ and then it’s over.” Even the euphoric “This Time” — which has my vote as ‘indie song of the summer ‘17’ — has Powell confronting the fleeting nature of life. But that somehow seems like trademark Land of Talk, and a feeling that lingers.