What's most beguiling is how the album reminds me of several other artists and bands I love without being obviously influenced by anything in particular. At moments I hear the measured cadence and melodic nous of early Shins; the aching piano-driven beauty of Automatic For The People-era REM; the stoic magic of the sorely missed Sparklehorse. However, its true beauty, and singularity, only reveals itself with intimacy.
Make Like gets its (secret) claws in early thanks to something as simple as a drum beat. Back in the early '00s, I took a road trip across the US with my close friend Will. The album on continuous rotation during that trip was The Sebadoh, which kicks off with the great Jason Loewenstein song 'It's All You'. The drum beat that begins Make Like's opener 'People On Screens' is similarly catchy. Drum sounds tend to be fetishised to an absurd degree, but my instinctive response to this beat is to get fired up, ready to stick around for the duration.
As a commuter myself, the image of 'People On Screens' is all too familiar: half-asleep humans glued to their smartphones, unable to bear being alone with themselves, semi-engaged with shallow, distracting content. The song crams in enough devious production details (shakers, synths, effects) to make Spoon jealous, before building to an agitated crescendo of flanged guitars. Then, a segue into 'Secret Claw', which cements the feeling of experiencing something special, its eerie swells of brass and piano akin to a giant existential yawn.
Despite being one of the least musically dynamic tracks, 'Dancer Howl' is easily the most lyrically affecting – and seems to hold the key to the themes of the whole record: fear, dishonesty, redemption, all wrapped up in the mystery of human stupidity. Towards the song's climax, as Gillian Lisée joins Lambert on vocals, handclaps crunching disconsolately behind them, the atmosphere is close to overwhelming. Rounding out the first side with peals of aching pedal steel, 'Curses' features a winning vibraphone and piano melody that vividly reminds me of something I can't quite put my finger on (dEUS, perhaps?).
The first half of side two is unashamedly gorgeous. 'Wilderness' evolves from a desolate piano ballad into a delirious, widescreen extravaganza akin to The Besnard Lakes, before seguing into the fidgety 'Old Golden', with its anxious refrain, "I am choking on an old golden rule". While the closing two songs took the longest to win me over, they end the album on an ambiguous note, inevitably sending me back to 'People On Screens'; indeed, the lyrics of 'Riot Size' suggest this circularity with the lyrics, "Shiny things on tiny screens inviting us to fight, to justify". Plus, the way 'Tri Twi' weaves its tapestry of jazzy flutes and wah-wah guitar suggests a hazy, cinematic dissolve, leaving one indelible line to ponder at the album's climax: "I've been you / One day you will have been me, too".
A thread of heartening resilience runs through Make Like's atmosphere of confusion and frustration, while the balance it sustains between the widescreen and the intimate rewards repeat listens with fresh revelations. Ultimately, perhaps the single enduring idea I take away from this extraordinary album is a line from 'Dancer Howl': "Don't make like hate, when you're really just afraid".
Make Like is available now on cassette, vinyl and digital download.