VALLEY OF THE GIANTS at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), Saturday and Sunday (April 17-18). $10. www.arts-crafts.ca Rating: NNNNN
Contrary to popular misconception, experimental art rockers Valley of the Giants are not trying to pay homage to Michael Crichton. Ever since they released their self-titled debut for Arts & Crafts records back in February, the Canuck indie supergroup - whose members also put in time in Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think, Shalabi Effect and Godspeed, to name a few - has been hounded by a warped PR myth that the entire disc was recorded as a tribute to Westworld, a campy 70s sci-fi western penned by the infamous Jurassic Park creator.
The confusion seems to come from Valley mastermind Anthony Seck, who mentioned the film in some promo material for the album's second track, a dreamy ballad that plods along like a sleepy pinto. The track is called Westworld and unspools from the perspective of a lonely, bloodthirsty robot cowboy on the frontier.
Somewhere along the way, though, listeners interpreted the blurb as a full-on mission statement.
"It's crap," laughs Seck, who's nursing a vodka-induced hangover while wandering down a Montreal street. "You'll find the movie referred to in a couple of lyrics, but that's it.
"Don't get me wrong. This is a concept CD. We're playing with concepts of the West, rooted in notions of revisionism and the American dream, and going back to roots in an attempt to discover something. I wish people would look at that rather than obsess over a movie from the 70s. I mean, we have a little more grace than that."
As Seck admits, a lot of people have trouble grasping the high-concept themes the group of extremely talented Valley musicians are exploring, especially since they're not necessarily explicit. For the most part, the album comprises sprawling, ambitious instrumentals that resonate on a visceral level.
This is not a pop album, and the songs are best appreciated if you give them your full focus. When they succeed, the band evokes incredibly powerful cinematic landscapes - you can almost see the geographical expanses they're shaping.
They use lyrics sparingly, and tracks like Westworld and the haunting Whaling Tale (on which Seck's father, a former merchant marine turned whaler, narrates an Old Man And The Sea-type yarn about a penguin trying to avoid being eaten by a killer whale) become a kind of punctuation.
"When we want to say something, we say it for a reason," insists Seck. "We didn't want fat. We were also looking for a sense of really vast space. Everyone in the band shares this craving for space, and I think that's what's coming out of this project."
As Seck describes the excitement of his fellow band members, who are congregating in Montreal to rehearse in preparation for the group's three-city mini-tour, you can tell the project is a labour of love. They're just stoked to take the album on the road.
But with the band members' pedigrees and the sudden popularity of Canuck indie rock, you've gotta figure the public's expectations for the project are insanely inflated. In fact, while Canada seems pretty taken with the band, early reviews Stateside have been so-so.
"We don't give a damn," spits Seck. "Fuck off. What's an expectation anyhow? I couldn't care less about that.
"The problem is that they're all coming at this from the context of hip. And the problem with the concept of hip is that it's very un-hip after a year.
"Music is so up in the air right now - the majors have no clue who they're signing, and the indies have hits but don't know where the next hits will come from. Music today has to be spongy and look for tons of different things. If it sticks to one thing, in a year's time or two years' time everyone will be imitating each other and it'll die. I'm not interested in that."