Two Hours Traffic’s new album is a yin/yang interpretation of the power-pop they love.
The yin of the Charlottetown four-piece’s breakthrough disc, 2007’s Little Jabs (a Polaris Music Prize prize nominee) is reflected in Territory’s eponymous title track. Fans of the band’s older work will warm to layered guitars and sing-along breakdowns.
The yang comes one track earlier. Wicked Side recalls Spoon’s focus on arrangement and tone. Built around a double-tracked bass line and “dancey” drums, the track chugs in a continuous groove more like New Order than the New Pornographers. A Wurlitzer organ roars the song’s dynamism, while guitar gently churns underneath.
“(With that song) we wanted to signal to everyone we’re doing different things,” said singer-guitarist Liam Corcoran. “It took a while for us to become confident enough to just keep it to a bass and drum groove. We thought the song sounds cool with all that space, and so decided to leave it as is — that we don’t need four guitars.”
Two Hours Traffic has always worked at distilling pop to its base elements: a creative direction partly attributed to undergraduate studies in chemistry and partly to a love of Nick Lowe sparked by their mentor Joel Plaskett (who produced both Little Jabs and Territory). But like many young bands, this fledgling focus on craft was hidden under heavy effects.
“When you first get into the studio, it’s easy to stack guitars on one another: To loop the guitars and just blast people away,” explained Corcoran. “That comes with a lack of confidence. But that’s not happening this time. We didn’t want to use every sound we could, but rather let the song speak for itself, and not gloss it up with too many overdubs.”
The band’s growing confidence is also reflected in the new album’s lyrics. Much of the material comes out of deep conversations held on tour. Cross-country bus rides, shifting landscapes and late nights away from friends and family can lead to ruminations on loss and spirituality — subjects reflected on tracks like Sing a Little Hymn and Lost Boys.
“After playing Little Jabs songs over and over again, we felt we had already done enough sweet, pretty songs about young love,” said Corcoran. “(I think) it’s harder to stand in front of people and sing darker songs; to dig a little deeper … We’re kind of hovering between the two worlds … (and) at times, you start to wonder if maybe you should be settling down.”