July Talk — Pray For It (7/10/20)

I’m pretty sure I listened to this Toronto band’s debut album at some point over the past several years. Their 2-minute rocker called “Someone” left a real mark on me with its explosive energy. Co-vocalist Peter Dreimanis’ throaty delivery is not usually what I’m looking for in my music but it works wonders paired up beside the lovely vocals of Leah Fay.

“Someone” is a staple in my rock favourites, but there’s not one other song from these guys that I’ve kept close. I think I was getting into their debut around the time their sophomore came out and I ended up letting that album completely pass me by. So, I see they’ve returned with album three and I’m getting back on board.

One thing is clear with this album, it’s a lot less heavy than what I remember from their older stuff.

Lead single “Pay For It” was the first sign of a softer sound. Fay takes the lead on vocals for a touching piano-led melody.

Bash his face in
That’ll do it
Fuck this place up
That’ll show us

The song was inspired after Fay witnessed a group of men violently attack some of her friends at a fast-food restaurant late one night. It has her addressing these patterns of violence and hate in society, that have become “ancient habits,” spawning more of the same.

A bold choice for the lead single as it’s about as emotionally heavy as the album gets. There’s reward to be found in the song though as it builds towards its conclusion. Scratching guitar echoes in and out, helping create a gritty texture within the atmosphere of the song, and despite its light delivery, you can feel the solid rock foundations grounding the song.

I’d say that’s the way it is for much of this album. It’s soft rock from a band that’s used to a bit of a heavier style. They keep things generally light but you can still feel that edge within their sound.

Fay leads on a few other highlights.

“Life Of The Party” is fueled by gently crunching guitar riffs, giving it just enough grit to balance Fay’s friendly performance. According to Fay, it’s a love song honouring the humanity of substance use.

One of the more straight-up rock songs is delivered with “The News.” The high energy track gets more out of Fay, her voice almost coming off a little muffled in the riff-driven chorus. Lyrically, it’s a take on the echo chambers we put ourselves in with today’s online media.

“Good Enough” is my favourite Fay-led song of the album and it might even go down as my overall favourite as a whole. Humming synths back up a snapping drum beat as Fay sings with this soothing gentleness. It feels like she’s trying to encourage a doubtful listener. She does a back and forth with Dreimanis in the hook and creates a dreamily infectious melody.

Dreimanis himself leads on three solid tracks.

“Identical Love” opens the album and when his throaty vocals come floating in, it’s pretty evident that he’s showing a different side to his performance. And it’s a wonderful side. His generally scratching vocals are softened but still hold so much weight, comparable in a way to The National’s Matt Berninger.

It’s a vague love song of sorts, inspired by Dreimanis’ own relationship with his partner. Synth keys, a rolling beat, and horns really help lift the song up and create a thought-provoking mood.

“Pretender” holds some similarities to their older sound with a solid rock foundation. There’s some liveliness to the chorus but I end up finding this one to lack in the special emotional quality that’s found in some of the softer songs.

They do a much better job with “Governess Shadow.” It’s the album’s second single and it makes for a much more upbeat tune following the deep feels of lead single “Pay For It.” The guitar immediately creates a feel-good mood and we get the most playful chorus of the album, Fay adding these chipper lines of “Silence and kindness!” on repeat. Lyrically, it’s not so bright, as it looks at the shadow created by the power dynamics we live under.

I find myself a little less interested in most of the duet songs on the album.

“See You Thru” is a smooth and mellow rock jam that just doesn’t grab me much. Closer “Still Sacred” is a slightly haunting finish that crawls along with Dreimanis and Fay singing coldly over bleak instrumentals. It’s too flat and concludes the album on a really dreary and honestly boring note.

They include gospel vocals from Kyla Charter and James Baley on the charming “Champagne.” A very out-there song for July Talk. I don’t hate it, but it’s not a song I want to listen to for 5 minutes.

I do however love “Friend Of Mine.” It’s a wonderfully pleasant shared performance between the two vocalists. The instrumentation is light but steady and the escapist chorus is one of the more easily enjoyable melodies of the album.

It was interesting to hear the band behind one of my favourite rock songs play with a much softer sound on this album. I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to keep my interest with these sophisticated slow songs but they’ve held onto a solid rock footing that gives these slower songs a lot more to hold onto. With 7 strong songs out of 11, I’d say it’s a pretty successful release.