Parallel Play

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At 13 songs and 37 minutes, Parallel Play feels as if it were designed as a counterpoint to its 2006 predecessor, Never Hear the End of It, an efficient machine next to the sprawling canvas of that hourlong 30-song neo-masterpiece. That it is, but Parallel Play isn't quite an abandonment of the White Album aesthetics of Never Hear, where all four members of Sloan played off their individual personalities to create a larger tapestry. Rather, Parallel Play condenses all that winding exploration into a tight, colorful blast of sound and song -- and one that is seamlessly sequenced just like its big brawny cousin. The slimmed-down streamlined structure winds up emphasizing the harder-rocking inclinations of Patrick Pentland and Andrew Scott, especially as the first half of the album relies heavily on their furious "Believe in Me" and "Emergency 911." Jay Ferguson's sweet and delicate tunes function as a counterbalance to this and the psychedelicized sludge of Pentland's "The Other Side," as Ferguson has an infectious light touch on "Cheap Champagne" and "Witch's Wand," which is far sunnier than its title implies. Chris Murphy's tunes act as a bridge between these two camps, as they're alternately as delicate as "Living the Dream" and as tough and cynical as "I'm Not a Kid Anymore," a reckoning of rocking in adulthood that has a counterpart in Scott's "Down in the Basement" (its freewheeling Dylan and the Band ramble being a nice musical joke to the song's title). Murphy and Scott address directly the issue that Sloan faced as a band and found a solution to: what it means to be a rock and pop band as you're starting to stare down middle age. It's a question many other bands have faced, but Sloan have solved their problem by giving each member room to roam, and they're winding up with records that are rich emotionally and musically, illustrating that it is possible for a classicist guitar pop band like Sloan to grow with each passing year.

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