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Declan Deliberates: Close Talker's latest release "The Sprawl"

by Declan Hills

Thoughts from my 5th Listen of Close Talker’s The Sprawl (2024)

Sask-indie-rockers have released a gentle behemoth of a record that rewards close attention and repeat listens

The weight of responsibility hits everyone uniquely. For some, it’s those “I just called that man my brother-in-law” moments; for others it’s seeing the wedding photos of someone you used to call “Squeak” (because their impeccable bat impression at age twelve). Squeak goes by their full name the ol’ web profile these days, works an office job, and where once an eyebrow ring hung is now scar tissue. Yet you still remember “Squeak Jones tagged Jenny Johnson and 4 others“  notifications from 2007. No doubt about it, you’re both older now. Gone are the nights of funnelling Dr. Pepper. Things change - you have commitments, a better haircut, less nausea from soda and that’s not a bad thing.

On The Sprawl, Close Talker explores intimacy, vulnerability, and newfound responsibility over lush guitar, ambient piano, precise percussion, and thoughtful bass. It’s effortlessly beautiful. ‘Burn Out’ whispers of sisters-in-law, childbirth, and moving for two minutes before the arrival of the rhythm section heralds self-analytical anxiety. The sonic palette settles into full form over a discussion of differing conflict-resolution styles - the contrast between enveloping melodies and ridged drum passages mirroring the drama of the lyrics. ‘Papier-mâché’ is an indie-rock groover; major-key reverb lines belie uneasy guitar-addled tension. Within this nervous tennis court of their own device, Close Talker moves like a combination of Natalie Tauziat and Sabine Lisick: fantastic drop shots and lightning-quick serves. This is a band that catches-and-releases with the best of them.

‘Exodus’ is like somebody going back in time, kidnapping The National, and raising them on prairie twilight instead of Cincinnati Reds baseball. Upbeat 90’s percussion backlines the cute “it is what it is’s” of our protagonist. ‘King George’ acts as a turning point in the record; spacious piano and audio samples emotionally resolve the record’s opening sequence. ‘KG’ cleanses the palette for the delicious ‘Tall Boy’ – an indie-ambient-country concoction that tastes like falling asleep in the passenger seat of a car at sunset. My previous sentence is as cliché as the track is enjoyable, which is to say extremely.

‘From Dark To Lightness’ has the kit switching between a soft 6/8 and driving 4/4 (hey nerds), elevating this 2010’s-inspired indie-rock track into the 20’s. There’s “Whoooaahooooooooahooooo”s, big harmonies, and a spaced-out lead line. Classic, delightful. ‘Miscue’ keeps the upbeat (by Close Talkers tastefully reserved standards) tempo going, while also showcasing Sprawl's production. The drum line borrows from 80’s new-wave aesthetics and the melodies recall The XX’s debut and Beach House, but the vocals are delightfully direct, straight at the listener. It’s an effective mishmash of influences, but undeniably Close Talker.

 ‘The Silence III’ follows up ‘The Silence I’ and ‘II’, tracks Close Talker released a decade ago on 2014’s Flux. The piss-and-vinegar, emboldened-nights, and young intensity of ‘I’ and ‘II’ have been traded in for acceptance of adulthood - Its beautiful moons, quiet backyards, and lost time. The arrangement introduces auto-humming ala Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver and Taylor Swift’s dalliance with alternative contemporary), a weapon well-used in Close Talker’s capable hands. ‘The Revery Has Died’ is Close Talker at their hookiest - the hi-hat fill transitioning verse to chorus is pure dopamine. Better yet, “Across the great divide” is yelled like “Do you realiiiiiize” was two decades ago by The Flaming Lips. This song is catchy, interesting, and – above all – fun.

‘And Am’ starts slow but ends up proving maturation hasn’t robbed the band of their fastball. Make no mistake; they can still rip guitars over crushing piano and driving rhythms. They haven’t gotten old yet, just more patient. ‘Chevy Floor’ is like reading a good epilogue; it’s a satisfying send-off that incites reflection. “I wish I had known this when I was just killing my time”, a sentiment expressed during the chorus, is tattooed on the brain of every person to make a call they want back. It would be nice to do things differently, knowing what you know now.

What’s beautiful about The Sprawl, outside of its meticulous arrangements and flawless execution, is its ability to articulate the adult experience – the “joy and misery” as Cold War Kids would say – and mourn the past without fetishizing it. This is a delicate high rope act - many songsmiths have fallen into derivative obscurity by overrating nostalgia but Close Talker prove themselves to be master funambulists.

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