How many New Year’s resolutions have you kept? I can count on exactly no hands how many I have, and though I’m tempted each year to make one (and I often do), I do so with all my bets made on blowing it. Maybe it’s the ambition of it all that makes the idea so attractive. “I want to be healthier, better read, more well-rested, sober, single, taken, thankful, outspoken, quiet…” But ambition is a hell of a thing. It’s a by-product of planning and doing, not something that can just be planned or done; it’s intangible and can be fleeting. Above all, it’s worthless without execution. Without a doubt, Adam Hanney is ambitious — lucky for us, he followed through.
In 2012, Hanney spent the year writing music, with each month yielding a track on his debut album, 12/12. As great as the idea of writing a song a month for a year is, I can imagine that it wouldn’t take very long into the process for some real self doubt to set in. There’s no space to walk away. Not staying the course means not only giving up on that project but it means giving up on that year. Dedicating a year of your life in the hopes that you’ll come up with an album is essentially what musicians do all the time, but the pressure of putting together only what comes from that year, and only (at least) one track from each month is terrifying. Yet limitations often fosters creativity, and 12/12 is a prime example.
The album is, as the title suggests, twelve tracks. The tracklist is laid out in a way that flows together as an album, rising and dipping in a musical sense with special care taken to highlight the sonic diversity of the record. However, the brilliant packaging of the physical copy, which includes a booklet with complete lyrics and stunning accompanying photographs, reveals an alternate way to experience the album. A light pencil scrawl on each page holds the key, showing the month within which each song was written. The album, when listened to this way, takes you on another journey through Hanney’s experience writing the record. The chronological track list feels more like it’s spiralling forth; outward, from darkness to light or perhaps angst to acceptance. It’s a journey that is identifiable, but perhaps not as marketable. I’m glad he chose to share both.
The sound of the album is much like Adam Hanney describes the band himself. “Indie rock meets a contemporary singer-songwriter. Electric guitars, drums, synthesizers, samplers, in tandem to narrate memories of sentiment & regret.” The songs are positively lyrics-focused, and it comes as no surprise that the heart and soul of this project is indeed a singer-songwriter and storyteller — each set of lyrics occupies a thick block of text in the book. The songs are narrative and specific and at times border on verbose, but therein lies their charm. If you want to hear stories rendered in lush, descriptive language, look no further.
Not far below the surface lies a bed of wonderfully instrumented textural work that seems at once familiar and ever-changing throughout the record. From the whine-stripped pop-punk sound of “Ashes” (think Panic! at the Disco without all the negative connotations that carries), to the trembling, rocky lullaby of “Manhattan” (think Nice, Nice, Very Nice-era Dan Mangan), to the delightfully stripped-back and groovy “Howl, pt. II” (don’t think, just listen), this album was meticulously designed and crafted with a variety of compelling sounds in mind.
For me, the stand out is the third track, “Cede,” written in October. Over a dusty bed of ambience Hanney paints a picture of togetherness and warmth; familiarity and nostalgia. This is quickly interrupted by drums that seem to tear the characters apart, leaving the speaker to muse on an October night, “I’m completely alone.”
“…I’ve got evergreens in my heart. And I don’t choose where they grow, but it’s still my fault, I suppose.”
For his current tour, which swings through Regina on November 10th at the Artful Dodger with The Tourist Company, Adam has scaled his 11-person deep “Co.” back to a simple two. The trio has spent the last few weeks on the road playing fourteen shows leading up to their final stop in the Queen City. Expect to hear the warble of delay pedals, layers of keyboards and samples, clicking and popping percussion, ripping offset guitars and Hanney’s signature voice alternating between gentle coos and searing wails. The band’s live approach to 12/12 is described by Hanney as “a lot more immediate and focused.” Expect a little extra though, because Hanney & Co. have been road-testing new tunes. Hanney describes the new material as having “more immediate, familiar song structures, minimalistic production, a lot more synth and a lot less guitar…” He says he “tried reaching for something [he] wasn’t sure was in [his] musical universe but it seems like it might be here to stay now. It’s a lot of fun.” This show promises to be a tight, tried and tested showing of one of Western Canada’s most interesting young bands, so show up early and bring money for merch.
Adam Hanney plays the Artful Dodger this Thursday, November 10th.