Release Date: 2006
Label: Kill Rock Stars
Ever listened to the Velvet Underground, the more psychedelic Jefferson Airplane songs, or Janis Joplin? Mecca Normal is the modern Canadian culmination of that particular sound, known to some as the ?riot grrl? genre. It’s feminist, political, personal, and everything mundane wrapped up in prolonged and somewhat agonized vocals, backed up with steady support on a quiet electric-acoustic guitar.
Vocalist Jean Smith has filled the album with songs about her failed love life: horrible dates with “Fallen Skier,” issues of insecurity in “I’m Not Into Being The Woman You’re With While You’re Looking For The Woman You Want,” and an odd look at love itself in “Attraction is Ephemeral.” For added flavour she’s thrown in the offbeat track “The Caribou and the Oil Pipeline,” with an ensuing explanation of how it’s absurd to release an album without mentioning such a pressing issue.
David Lester picks up the guitar to join in on the post-hippy record and does a great job of building up the detached, introspective mood. In fact, as a team the duo comes off awfully close to beat poets. You can picture them spanning several decades: sporting berets and striped white-and-black shirts in the 50s, long hair and headbands in the 60s and 70s, and thin white cotton robes in the 80s. Despite the modern genre label (riot grrl), this is a band that has picked up on an ubiquitous form of music and honestly made it work for them.
What really comes to mind when I listen to these tracks is the fact that Mecca Normal is so transparent in their Canadian nationality. More so than even the Tragically Hip, you can immediately hear that the songwriters are concerned with this country: they’re kept busy watching Americans; they tell us about skiers who left school in grade 11 and didn’t leave home until they were twenty; and of course they sing about caribou and American oil pipelines. It’s not by any means a patriotic band nor a patriotic album; I merely mean that the songs themselves have obviously been constructed within specific borders.
The Observer is a very clever name for the record, because that is exactly the impression it has left on me. Mecca Normal has made a great album that makes you feel like you’ve just switched on the CBC News after a long vacation away from home. It’s unconventional, bright, and entertaining?give it a shot!