Project Pablo's latest LP, inspired by rural living, fails to play to his strengths.
Lately, though, he's wandered out of that frame. His last EP, There's Always More At The Store, included a crisp take on 2-step and a guitar-and-piano piece. Other tracks in the last couple years have adopted classic New York house ("Forgetful Dance") and steppy UK forms ("In The Locale"). His latest album, Come To Canada You Will Like It, has a specific focus. It's a series of simple, low-key tracks inspired by "slowing down": that is, not being swept up by the pace of life in cities like Montreal, where Holland lives. The back of the record is a map of Howe Sound, where Holland grew up. The sleeve is a watercolour painting, done by Holland when he was young, of a rural idyll that might come to mind once "Intro"'s folky synth melody rises into view.
The album keeps ploughing this pastoral mood. "No Interest"'s drums tap out a lazy rhythm alongside percolating electric piano. (It could pass for a Gaussian Curve jam session.) Rory Seydal's guitar drizzles over "Rent Day"'s lilting keys and dusty live kit. "Just A Thought"'s lovely horn snakes through a crafty bassline and echo-laden synth chords. After a time, though, the album's sparse arrangements and chill-out vibe work against it. Whenever "Tunstall"'s dubby horns slip out of earshot, the drums and keys become pale focal points. "Nanana"'s slack, clicky groove seems caught between the LP's laidback M.O. and Holland's dancier material. It works up to a point, but the twinkling midrange feels slight against the bass, which isn't so much pushing as being dragged along.
If some tracks seem a little too unfastened, "Fine Match" gets it about right. The Rhodes chords and MIDI horn apply some Moon Safari-esque colour, and the percussion does just enough to prop them up. Holland's drums play a more crucial role in two back-end tracks. "To Sealeigh And Back," the only straight-up house bit here, seems lifted by its swinging drums—suddenly, the melodies flex, the harmonies tighten, and all is well. It highlights the unsung role of the brisk beat grids across I Want To Believe, an LP that Holland described as "a walk through Little Italy," his neighbourhood. "It's Okay That It's Like This"'s half-time, dubwise bounce also suggests his music fares better when it submits to the rhythms of his more immediate surroundings.