Reviews PS I Love You For Those Who Stay

PS I Love You

For Those Who Stay

Coming to prominence in 2011 on the strength of the almost unanimously praised debut LP Meet Me at Muster Station, PS I Love You (made up of guitarist/vocalist Paul Saulnier and drummer Benjamin Nelson) popped up at precisely the right time to take advantage of a music community all too willing to embrace an unconventional indie rock duo. Though the comparison to fellow Canadian group Japandroids is almost inevitable (particularly since both groups have a more chaotic, noisy side to their sound), Saulnier’s vocals often give PS I Love You’s music a melancholic, downbeat sort of feel and I’d be inclined to label them as the more typical indie rock group. Following the 2012 album Death Dreams that stood as an agreeable sophomore record, Saulnier and Nelson return with 2014’s For Those Who Stay, but the album’s somewhat unfortunately named penultimate track “More of the Same” hints at what one can expect from the effort as a whole.

I’d be the first one to admit that I sincerely enjoyed the band’s debut album, and I don’t think anyone could argue with the level of musicianship Saulnier and Nelson bring to the table. The compatibility between these two players is striking and their partnership results in some really tight compositions that would rival those produced by four and five piece bands. Still, the novelty of the idea that a duo can replicate the full band experience has somewhat diminished over the years: there are more and more groups like this out there these days, and PS I Love You doesn’t seem to have really evolved and moved forward much since their debut. This seems especially true for Saulnier, who can still crank out some wonderfully loud and intricate guitar parts, but whose lyrics too often detail endless self-doubt to the point that they become redundant and tiring. I also find that his vocals become grating after a while, sounding very similar to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah vocalist Alec Ounsworth – or even like John Belushi doing an impression of an indie rock singer. Generally the tunes on For Those Who Stay aren’t bad, but PS I Love You’s music doesn’t seem nearly as unique and invigorating as it once did.

Opening track “In My Mind at Least” is plenty energetic; with its straight-ahead rhythm and shimmering waves of warm guitar it’s downright enthralling to listen to – until Saulnier starts off his lyrics with what seems to be a constant string of apologies. It’s this somewhat whiny quality to the lyrics that, for me, takes away from the winning musical elements on this record – after a while, I simply wanted this band to rock out and leave these wishy-washy lyrical themes behind. To its detriment, the nearly five-minute long “Advice” continues down much this same path; despite the well-composed guitar harmonies, the track nearly becomes difficult to stomach due to Saulnier’s forced vocal delivery during the chorus. The pleasant acoustic number “Bad Brain Day” allows the warbly-voiced singer to continue airing all his self-doubt, but the end result is a bit cheesy - it’s a big relief when fourth track “Limestone Radio” jettisons the tenuous vibe in favor of driving rhythms and fuzzed-out guitar. The vocals here remind me of what one might expect in songs from The Cars or even Devo, and the arpeggios playing under the grinding main chords add to the nostalgic sense of fun in the track.

For Those Who Stay’s title track is the first of several noticeably longer (overlong?) and more grandiose numbers on the second half of the album. For a band known for songs running three minutes or less, this six and a half minute piece seems to last forever, with its opening guitar harmonies lifted straight out of a Ratatat song being replaced by a lengthy guitar solo section that’s just unnecessary. This solo section would probably mesmerize an audience in a live setting, but it’s absolute filler on the album. Subsequent track “Afraid of the Light” begins with immense guitar sound and a reverberating vocal chorus before it retreats back into a relaxed jam that sounds kinda like a slightly sped-up version of Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” The strained, shrieky recitation of the line “AM I REALLY HERE?” during the chorus inspires more a teeth-clenching response than an awe-inspiring one, but the genuinely jubilant chorus of “Friends Forever” finally achieves the profundity that the album had been searching for all along. “More of the Same” is, well, just that, taking a full two minutes to get going and underwhelming when it does. Saultier’s voice is at its most unflattering and nasally here, and even strangely more operatic vocals during the loud but unexciting coda of album closer “Hoarders” didn’t do much to end the album on a high note.

Perhaps the most damning thing about For Those Who Stay is the fact that it starts to bog down in overstuffed tracks late in the going. The first handful of tracks here weren’t perfect, but they kept the album moving right along and I was for the most part OK with them. Right around the point when the record really needed a shot in the arm to keep things fresh, we get a quintet of pointlessly lengthy tracks that have the cumulative effect of gradually draining any momentum and energy from the album. Instead of cruising towards the finish line, it sputters and lurches towards its conclusion. Judging from this album, I’d have to say that PS I Love You needs focus, not a “bigger is better” attitude, as they continue their musical endeavors. For Those Who Stay will probably please the group’s fans and it isn’t terrible by a long shot; nevertheless, I’d call it the weakest of the duo’s albums.

7.0 / 10Andy
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