Following the gentle, acoustic-led folk that the Montreal-based trio Plants & Animals preceded La La Land with, hopes of something similarly divine from their debut UK album have been dashed by this release. La La Land is ridden with fuzzy, crunchy, psychedelic guitar nose which chugs along with determination and conviction but in turn smothers contrasting timid, held back vocals, unfortunately proving that finding distortion and the strength to crank up the volume hasn't worked out for the best for Plants & Animals. This offering bears resemblance to the likes of Wolf Parade, The National and Arcade fire, but in a more rough around the edges way with its true roots more oldfashioned than contemporary and back in the '70's.
The opening tracks are guitar heavy yet disappointingly dismissible until variety edges in with 'American Idol' by means of a grungy growled saxophone part and the brass backings of a pop song; in terms of songwriting and harmony, however, it's very bland with minimal chords and doesn't really do much. 'Undone Melody' on the other hand is a down-tempo floating country blues song that in the most part meanders along in a stop-start manner then, around three minutes in, a piano arpeggio leads into a more forceful, pushed section building into a wall of noise and vocals towards it's close. 'Undone Melody' differs from the previous tracks as it gradually gains momentum, especially with the inclusion of strings, but the vocals neither have the power nor conviction to sing clear over the top.
'Kon Tiki' is more upbeat and suggests Plants And Animals as a psychedelic version of Arcade Fire but again it passes by without much to latch onto; without the catchiness of an Arcade Fire track. Similarly 'Game Shows', a down tempo piano and strummed guitar song with bluesy vocal harmonies plods along with close tempo and feel to the preceding La La Land contents. Eventually electric guitars and strings plunge in with strings but the track, like the album, constantly leaves you in anticipation of something happening; regrettably, when the music eventually does push on and build, it never really comes to much.
Unfortunately the saving graces of La La Land lurk towards its conclusion; 'The Mama Papa' pushes forward with more conviction in the vein of a chugging contemporary indie rock number. Similarly 'Fake It', with a vocal tone like a psychedelic, less confident Jonny Borrell, starts out as a bland, fuzzy rock and roll effort but gradually grows and gets faster and faster creating suspense through its' instrumental. The penultimate track 'Future From The 80s' glimpses back at Plants & Animals' former life with a more subtle, singable, gentle feel and layers of electronic produced chordal padding, strummed guitars and gently throbbing drums. Over this bed sounds a French horn with a complimentary mellow tone; towards the end, whilst the track gently marches along, there's beautiful harmony between the French horn and saxophone.
All in all, La La Land is a frustrating and merely average album; Plants and Animals' higher volume, more raucous rock and roll intentions are there but so too are glimpses of the near-perfected gentle folk that they've endeavoured to leave behind and in doing so have come to a conclusion ridden with disappointing songwriting.