Following the chock-fulla-hooks extravaganza that was 2007's 30-track Never Hear the End of It, the Nova Scotia power-poppers known as Sloan have apparently decided to settle back a bit with this year's Parallel Play (Yep Roc). A "mere" thirteen tracks of insinuating pop-craft, Play shows the boys continuing to follow the kaleidoscopic style of End's pandemonium pop-rock shadow show. With all four band members taking on singing and songwriting responsibilities – plus swapping instruments to suit their own compositions – all but the most die-hard fans will most likely toss up their hands trying to figure out who really does what. If Sloan the studio band is a trace slipperier than the quartet of lovable Canucks bashing out their addictive songs in rock clubs, it doesn't change the fact that Parallel is, as the title suggests, cunningly played.
Though they may not be – as bassist Chris Murphy acknowledges in the cheerfully snappy "I'm Not A Kid Anymore" – the young 'n' grungy poppers of their "Underwhelmed" days, Sloan continues to churn out energizing old school radio-worthy material. Some of the near instant highlights include Murphy's "All I Am Is All You're Not," a sardonic comment on the U.S.A./Canada divide with some nifty guitarwork in the center that sounds like it could've come out of a seventies L.A. session; drummer Scott's quick buzz pop-punker "Emergency" (not to be confused with the 999 song); rhythm guitarist Jay Ferguson's "Witch's Wand," a deceptively perky pop boogie about a self-destructive girl; and guitarist Patrick Pentland's "Burn for It," which manages to conjure up both BOC and the Steve Miller Band in brighter days. As songwriters, the Sloan Kids have never been shy about acknowledging their influences (check the Dylan/Band Basement Tapes refs in Scott's "Down in the Basement"), but it takes a respectful type of cheekiness to improve upon the REO Speedwagon sound (complete with retro organ work done by the songwriter's father!) as Pentland does with album opener "Believe."
After briefly meandering into bland MOR at the turn of the century with their 2001 big-label release Pretty Together, the men of Sloan have re-found their multi-pop-rock focus. Like Never Hear the End of It, the new disc shows our quartet happily spinning off in a variety of directions with a willfulness that only be called Beatle-esque. In the states, these guys haven't gotten half the attention they deserve (though they're consistent favorites in their own country), and while Parallel Play probably won't change that situation, it's a must have for all you out-of-time lovers of guitar-driven alt-y rock 'n' roll.