When Land of Talk – the Montreal-based outfit led by Elizabeth Powell – first arrived on the scene in the mid-2000s, they were one of Canada’s most electrifying and uncompromising indie pop-rock bands. They were confident, even borderline brash, and fans embraced them wholeheartedly. They were going to be the next great band from Montreal, battling alongside Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade for such recognition. Just as the stars were aligning for them to hit it big abroad, everything turned upside down. Powell lost her drummer, and in 2008 she suffered another setback – she lost her voice. She would have emergency vocal surgery that year, and her career was in jeopardy. Powell, though, powered through another Land of Talk album, 2010’s Cloak and Cipher, but that was the last anyone would hear from her for some time.
In the following years, new challenges were encountered. Powell lost all of her material for a new album after her computer crashed. Her father suffered a stroke, and she dedicated her time to being his caregiver. The pull of music, however, was too strong. Last year, Powell re-emerged. Accompanied by Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas of The Besnard Lakes and reunited with drummer Bucky Wheaton, she played a handful of shows across the eastern provinces and the Northeast United States, including Brooklyn’s Northside Festival. She hadn’t lost her edge, and her voice sounded as vibrant as it did a decade ago. Land of Talk was back, and so was Powell’s confidence. Ten days ago, she made her triumphant return with Life After Youth.
Life After Youth isn’t a redemption album, although it is filled with vignettes that allude to the past seven years. The punchy opener, “Yes You Were”, offers one opening into Powell’s mind. Her songwriting is highly reflective, describing how much the world has become a younger generation’s oyster. The slow building and immediate “Spiritual Intimidation“ gets us closest into Powell’s psyche. The lyrics are contemplative and introspective, and a quiet conviction lies beneath her remorseful voice.
God is my witness and my friend.
How do you explain these solitary inclinations?
Such is my freedom has no end.
Life it sleeps by you and then it’s over.
How are you going to live, if you can’t love?
The synth-pop number, “Inner Lover”, at first feel like a love song, but a second listen reveals its true meaning. It is Powell revealing her struggles and pains and reminding herself to be strong. The song is stunning, from the taut synths to Powell’s enrapturing vocals. On “World Made”, Land of Talk amp up the intensity a couple of notches on this exhilarating ’90s-influenced, pop-rock number. The song is Powell further unveiling herself to the world. She bellows, “Oh, I’m an independent. I won’t wait up for you to call me out. I won’t want anyone out there.”
There is celebration to be heard on Life After Youth, which is best reflected on the stunning “This Time”. With Sharon Van Etten on backing vocals, the song is the anthem to Powell’s personal life and her father. You can sense her resolve and resilience when she sings:
I don’t wanna waste it this time.
Do you see the fate that’s the end of me?
I don’t wanna waste it, my life,
To think it was in front of me
Together we laugh, the memory low.
Finding ourselves, the phases were slow.
Cause I don’t wanna waste any of this time.
The body’s still wasted.
The album’s emotional centerpiece, though, is “Loving”. The song is striking in its blissful intimacy, echoing the intoxicating warmth of Stevie Nicks’ romantic ballads. Just as one is ready to ease into the song, it escalates in its final forty-five seconds into a searing rocker. The entire arrangement is brilliant to reflect the emotional roller coaster that is love, and in some ways this song reflects Powell’s own experiences of the past seven years. Fortunately, it ends in exhilaration, which is how Life After Youth will leave you feeling – exhilarated by the album’s ten songs and Powell’s lengthy experience. Triumphant. Redemption. Whatever one wishes to call it, Life After Youth is a grand achievement by one of Canada’s great artists.
Featured photo by Matt Williams, taken from Land of Talk’s Facebook page.
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