There have been countless records that begin with the same bombast as The Most Serene Republic's ...And The Ever Expanding Universe, but few have taken listeners down a path of such enriching, introspective discovery. Long masters at stimulating senses and stirring emotions, the Ontario-based band have never sounded this immediate and attainable.
The sonic density of their previous efforts has given way to more dynamic, engaging fare, as visceral as the most obviously cloying pop music but with a more scintillating head on its shoulders.
So what's prompted a shift in musical direction for The Most Serene Republic? According to the band's musical figurehead Ryan Lenssen, the group is highly critical of and competitive with itself. "I feel like our band challenges our own status quo," he explains. "[Vocalist] Adrian [Jewett] said it really well the other day; the first record [2005's Underwater Cinematographer] was ‘denial,' [2007's] Population was ‘anger,' and Universe is ‘acceptance.' We constantly challenge ourselves not to be stagnant because if we didn't, we'd be in constant states of pain. We need to get out of that and more in tune with nature-the ebbs and flows that make you wanna live."
Hypersensitive and buoyed on by endearing melodrama in their heads, The Most Serene Republic remain a captivating force because they continue to wrestle with their existence (and ours) by conveying such tension and conflict in their extra-extraordinary music.
"I think the smartest thing a record label can do is sign a bunch of kids at 19, and then trick them into documenting their lives for the next six to ten years," Lenssen says, half-jokingly. "All reality shows are based on the same idea; get people when they're the most insecure, going through the most challenging moments of their lives, and get them to document it and expose themselves nakedly to the world." "At the end of the day, you feel like a grandma who's knit the world a sweater and the kids don't know how to deal with it. Some kids really love the sweater but others only put it on when grandma's around. Some kids immediately take it to Goodwill but not before they tell all their friends how much their grandma's present sucked."
Seeking an external opinion they trusted, Lenssen, Jewett, vocalist/guitarist Emma Ditchburn, guitarists Nick Greaves and Sean Woolven, and bassist Simon Lukasewich ventured into a working relationship with noted engineer Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals, etc.). As the first record not produced entirely by Lenssen, ...And The Ever Expanding Universe marks a radical shift within the Republic's methodology.
"The others were, without a doubt, concept records," Lenssen explains. "This one was too, only in that we didn't want a concept. We wanted to see what happens when you let go-when you let your subconscious write it. I was also reintroduced to pop music by Dave. There was a whole spectrum of analysis and appreciation for pop that I wasn't giving the time of day. It's awesome when you can have someone you respect shake your head and say, ‘It's okay; let's just do this.'"
That said, there was, however, a conscious effort by the band to make some kind of musical departure-a direction that, on paper any way, seems implausible for the Most Serene Republic.
"I said I want a record that sounds like the Association," Lenssen reveals. "I want it to sound like Motown, like Diana Ross and the Supremes, because indie-rock is done; that sound was pretty much 2002-2005. I wanted to do something that could also communicate with our parents because they have great musical taste. Before we went into this, Kevin [Drew of Broken Social Scene] was like, ‘Fuck Toronto; make a record for the world.' If you can pay homage to geniuses and get a new audience to pay attention to old sounds, that's about the most flattering thing you can do for those past generations. And I want to keep it fresh for ourselves."
With its amalgam of anthemic pop, electronica, ornate classical flourishes, and yes, some not- so-obvious nods to classic R&B, this is not the document of a band ingratiating itself for broader appeal. With new drummer Adam Balsam infusing their sound with an unexpectedly swinging stomp, The Most Serene Republic sound as challenging as ever. If the goal was to get middle- aged parents to understand and appreciate ..And The Ever Expanding Universe, then it's going to take some awfully open-minded parents. "I would love to be able to communicate with the whole world one day but I'm pretty happy with the way things are going right now," Lenssen admits. "If our music can take care of the few people who want to discover the world in a different light or do crazy things, I'm really happy to facilitate sending our message to those people."