Published Jan 01, 2006When a formula works well enough to spawn six critically acclaimed albums, a cult following and be cited as an influence by some of today's top rock artists, is there anything else you can do but change it? For their seventh album, Action Pact, Sloan have thrown everything familiar aside, choosing hierarchy over democracy, fast-paced over stately, hi-fi over lo, and L.A. over Toronto. Jay Ferguson sees it only one way: "Just to keep making good records."
The plan seems to be working Action Pact is one of their best to date. It is a straight-up rock album with more focus and depth than the band has shown lately, if ever. From opener "Gimme That" (in which Andrew Scott beats the drums like they're two weeks overdue on a horse racing debt) to the closer, "Like a Hurricane"-inspired "Fade Away," there isn't a dull moment. Although the band have obviously turned in the songs and performances to make the disc work, this new-found focus seems to be attributable to their working arrangement with Tom Rothrock (Badly Drawn Boy, Elliot Smith, Beck.)
"On some of our other records," according to Ferguson, "we had been accused of making a compilation album, like an acoustic song, a rocker and a mid-tempo piano ballad. When Tom came to see us live he said You guys can do a lot of things, but here's what you do best it's when you're live, Andrew is behind the drum kit and there are layers of guitars and melodies. So, let's make a record like that.' So that's what the mission was almost." It was with this goal that the band made the difficult decision to leave mid-winter Toronto and head for Los Angeles.
The band showed up at Rothrock's studio with 40 songs in hand, and left him to choose the tracks he thought would best suit the album. And Jay Ferguson admits there was a certain amount of tension involved in the process. "I was getting a little worried that maybe nothing of mine would get picked. But I ended up with a couple on the record, which is normally what I have anyway. I knew that he would lean more towards Patrick [Pentland] because he comes out with more rockers."
Patrick Pentland's songs do give the album it's backbone and tone, but it's Chris Murphy's "Rest of My Life" and Ferguson's own "False Alarm" that accentuate the album's charm and provide two of Sloan's greatest moments back to back. An unfortunate offshoot of this selection process, though, is the absence of a contribution from drummer Andrew Scott. "Andrew only brought in a couple of songs, and from Tom's perspective they didn't really fit the mould of the album. He was just really busy being a dad this year; hopefully next time he'll come back around with some more Andrew songs. I miss having them on the record."
With big name producers and L.A. studio spaces coming into the fold, it may seem as if Sloan is moving into a new era. For them though, it's all part of a simple task, just making another good record.