Sam Roberts Band get psychedelic on TerraForm

The Montreal rockers team up with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh but only partially break out of their comfort zone


The Sam Roberts Band have based their career on churning out back-to-basics pop/rock, although more recently they’ve also experimented with jazz and Afrobeat elements in the mix. On TerraForm, they move away from the horns and percussion of their last two albums and instead add psychedelic touches courtesy of producer Graham Walsh, known for his work in the instrumental electronic rock band Holy Fuck.

Walsh holed up with the group at the Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Recording Studio in Kingston, and rather than focus on layering overdubs of additional instrumentation, he concentrated on augmenting the big guitar riffs with elaborate echoes and effect processing. While the results are often mesmerizingly trippy, the studio trickery still takes a back seat to the group’s trademark singalong choruses.  

When it works best, the pairing is a bit like what we might have got if Brian Eno had produced Tom Petty instead of working with U2. The classic rock and country influences are still front and centre but sprinkled with pixie dust. Occasionally the electronic embellishments bring the sounds closer to new wave, but TerraForm is definitely not a synth-pop record. 

Despite Roberts’s appetite for sonic experimentation, as a songwriter he’s a traditionalist, and that’s what stands out most about this new batch of songs. Every track seems so maddeningly familiar that you suspect it could be a cover, which should help the material fit into modern rock radio playlists. More exciting, however, is when he breaks out of his comfort zone.

It isn’t until album closer Spring Fever that you get a sense of how much further the band could’ve pushed the experimentalism. A shimmering synthesizer groove opens the song, initially sounding more like Holy Fuck than the Sam Roberts Band, and suddenly they jump into a dreamy country-rock jam that repeats in your head long after the album ends. 

Top track: Spring Fever 

Sam Roberts Band play Rebel January 20. Listen to single If You Want It here.

benjaminb@nowtoronto.com | @benjaminboles

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