A Fairway Full of Miners

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Winnipeg's unrepentantly quirky Boats returned with A Fairway Full of Miners, an over the top follow-up to 2011's Cannonballs, Cannonballs. The band immediately calls to mind the meaningful sentiments and clean production style of bands like the Decemberists and Arcade Fire, swapping out some of those bands' urgency and fervor for a more lighthearted feel, still spirited and neatly arranged, but lacking some of the darkness. Tracks like "Great Skulls" and "Sad Legs" show Boats cycling through sharp arrangements of electronics, rigid vocal harmonies, tandem trumpet lines, and tastefully placed blasts of guitar. Almost every song is packed with shifting arrangements, at their very best recalling the same sort of energy that set Clap Your Hands Say Yeah apart in their early days. While the bright production highlights some of the group's catchy, wistful melodies and smart hooks, the songs are taken down at times by singer Mat Klachefsky's often irritating cartoonish vocals. When Klachefsky reins it in, his singing seems sincere, inoffensive if whiny, as on "Advice on Bioluminescent Bears." When he gets into his more affected, put-on styles, as on the enormously grating "Animated GIFs," the whole production suffers. Songs like "We Got Pillows and Blankets" are weighed down by both Klachefsky's annoying lead vocals and equally bothersome lumberjack-style backup choruses. A plethora of heavy-handed and jokey lyrical references also takes away from the album's punch. The instrumentally interesting "O Jumbotron" ends with a triumphant refrain of "We will shake our Ozzy Osbourne T-shirts in time! We will shake our AC/DC T-shirts in time!!" Boats bounce constantly on A Fairway Full of Miners between rare moments of candor and long stretches of self-consciously reaching for something clever, funny, meaningful, or connective, and often failing. The great production of the album and its grab bag of above-average musical ideas are ultimately lost to the overarching disingenuous feel of Boats and the strain their various affectations put on the songs.

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