Hearing Trees: Small Talk EP review

★★ out of 5

Supplied photo

Releases Nov. 30 at the Park Theatre.

Winnipeg indie-rock band Hearing Trees is releasing their latest addition to the esteemed Canad-indie rock canon, a fivesong EP titled Small Talk. The EP comes four years after their full-length effort Quiet Dreams in 2018.

The first track, “A Million Times,” is an inauspicious start to the project. The sullen guitar progression that kicks it off seems to resound in the melancholy miasma as is obligatory from indie rock of this kind, and the Steven Page-like baritone of lead vocalist Graham Hnatiuk seems initially incongruous with the material. It’s not insincere or totally unmoving, but at this point, the folksy indie dirge has lost most of its power over my mood.

The EP hits its stride on the second track, “Bones,” which is imbued with a bit more élan and a quality, spindling guitar riff. What becomes evident at this stage of listening is that these guys are no amateurs, as the polished production and instrumental proficiency smooth over many of the hitches in songwriting. Particular credit to Andy Cole’s axemanship, which acts as the bedrock of Hearing Trees’ sound.

“Fearless Kindness” hones late ’70s AOR (album-oriented rock) for a driven if not inspiring rocker, with a rousing backbeat on the snare drum that gets switched up during the chorus.

Small Talk benefits from a subtle eclecticism brought on by the ebb of flow of energy song-to-song. In that regard, there is cohesion to the package that gives it holistic legitimacy as a project rather than a collection of songs as mere convenience.

The final two tracks, “Another Ten Minutes” and “Mountaineering,” act as the dénouement and resolution to our plot, with the latter featuring some distinctive background vocals and sprightly guitar shreddery for a satisfying and emotive finish.

The EP is mostly lyrically benign as it veers from common lyrical faux pas such as obvious allusions to darkness and the works of Oscar Wilde. It’s been more than 50 years since Simon & Garfunkel’s dissolution to learn what worked for them and what didn’t. And no amount of perfunctory awareness of your own pretensions, as demonstrated in fourth track, “Another Ten Minutes,” can excuse it.

Sometimes, it feels like the flotsam of the independent music sphere coalescing into a mostly coherent whole with its unearned dourness and nebulous lyricism. Sometimes, it actually sounds pretty decent. There is certainly room for improvement, and there is much promise in the tunes provided here, but I’m hesitant to recommend a product that mostly amounts to an amalgam of alternative cliches from the last 15 or so years.

Whether Hearing Trees can force a grimy, tattooed hand out of the heaping indie landfill and crawl and claw their way into a niche of their own is yet to be seen.

Hearing Trees’ Small Talk comes out on Nov. 25. The Park Theatre will host a release show on Nov. 30. Advance tickets are $15 and available on Eventbrite.

Published in Volume 77, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 24, 2022)

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