Home Read Classic Album Review: Duotang | The Bright Side

Classic Album Review: Duotang | The Bright Side

The Winnipeg bass-and-drum band deliver their most mature and thoughtful album.

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This came out in 2001 — or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Duotang should have run out of ideas years ago.

There are, after all, just two of them. And unlike, say an electronic duo armed with banks of synthesizers and samplers, this Winnipeg combo consists of the guys every band in the world makes jokes about: The drummer and the bassist. Sure, stick handler Sean Allum and thick-stringer Rod Slaughter — who also sings — are both supremely talented lads. And OK, they augment their sound with the odd keyboard, horn section and female vocal. But still, it’s only natural to ask: Just how many decent songs can you write around four strings and some tom-toms and cymbals?

Well, if that’s the musical question, their ironically titled third CD The Bright Side provides the simple answer: Loads. Or to be more exact, 14, aka the number of cuts on this fine 45-minute set of finely honed indie-pop.

As it always has been, the pair’s sound is firmly anchored in the bouncy beats and zippy melodies of ’60s British mod, rendered via Slaughter’s fuzzy, rumbling bass chords and Allum’s cymbal-smashing, rock-solid backbeats. Listen to the driving momentum of songs like Present Blind and Rise And Fall Of The G.Q.B.C., or the boppy pop of the title track or Bitterman, and you can’t help but hear echoes of folks like The Jam and The Kinks. But listen closer and you’ll also hear something else: Quieter melodies, slower, meditative rhythms, gentle pop stylings that betray Rod and Sean’s musical growth and songwriting maturity. And add enough variety and depth to these cuts that you seldom notice there are only two instruments being played.

Maturity, depth, growth. All good things musically. But in real life, they can be a real bitch. And The Bright Side delivers on that level too. Like I said a couple of sentences back, that title comes with more than a spoonful of irony. “I was truly at my best when I was 17 / Was all that kept repeating through my mind,” realizes Slaughter on Present Blind. It’s a sentiment that, in various forms, keeps repeating throughout this nostalgic, reflective album. Now five years older and wiser than when they began, Duotang seem preoccupied with growing up, growing older and facing the fears of adulthood — missed opportunities, regrets and the realization that maybe, just maybe, your best years are already behind you and you didn’t even see them slip past.

“The times have changed but we remain fixated to the same old vices and situations,” Slaughter confesses on the title track, continuing the thread on Rise And Fall Of The G.Q.B.C. “We look like throwbacks to a past life, a sad sight … What became of the moment of our lives?” The titles alone — The Evidence Comes From All Directions, Are We Still Aligned?, Excuse For Apathy, A Brief Observation Of Our Dissatisfaction With Balance, The Day We Left The World Behind — say the rest. But perhaps one line from Bitterman sums up their situation best: “One day you look in the mirror and it’s straight at the face of a bitter man.” If it sounds like a downer, well, at times it can be. But Duotang aren’t trying to bring you down as much as wake you up, snap you out of your complacency and boot you in the ass. If you don’t keep moving forward, these songs cry out, you’re gonna get pulled backward. And there’s no future in living in the past.

Not bad for a couple of guys with four strings and some tom-toms. And as long as the Duotang boys can write songs with this much emotional insight and honesty, they don’t have to worry about running out of ideas.