Parallel Play

Veteran Canadian rock quartet Sloan surprised nearly everyone in 2006 with a sprawling, ambitious 27-song double album, cheekily titled Never Hear the End of It, that was generally regarded as their best record in years. How do you follow that up? Parallel Play, a punchy 35-minute distillation of their strengths. With all four members (the same since their 1991 inception) writing and taking turn on lead vocals, it's a bit of a miracle they've lasted this long and stayed this good. The album's title -- referring to how toddlers play near but not really with each other -- is a nod to their secret. Everyone in the band has his own specialty and is given space to do his own thing. Almost recorded as four mini solo-projects, Parallel Play nonetheless works as a cohesive album, though it's one that only Sloan (known for changing musical styles on a whim) would deliver. There's big, dumb riff rock courtesy guitarist Patrick Pentland (album opener "Believe in Me") while bassist Chris Murphy delivers crunchy power pop with typically wry lyrics. The best songs, this time out, come courtesy drummer Andrew Scott (the Dylanesque rave-up "Down in the Basement") and the band's other guitarist, Jay Ferguson, whose "Cheap Champagne" and "Witches Wand" recall '70s AM pop at its prime. And for a band who've delved into nearly every genre of music over their 17-year career, it seemed inevitable that they would eventually dip their toes into Caribbean waters -- which they do on Scott's bouncy but world-weary "Too Many." It's perhaps Parallel Play 's highlight, and one wonders what Sloan might do with country or even disco? Maybe next time.

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