Published Nov 18, 2019On one of the most sophisticated rock albums of 2019, Toronto's Bankruptcy balance weighty subject matter with cool hooks and textured, guitar-driven music to conjure Computers Make the Drinks, which rewards listeners who dig deep.
Rob Benvie made his bones in Thrush Hermit, a band he helped co-found when he was still attending a Halifax high school. Over the years, as the quartet worked out the tension between their sense of fun and irreverence for rock 'n' roll conventions, while also being dudes who took their craft very seriously, Benvie became something of a foil for his childhood friend, and the Hermit's other primary songwriter, Joel Plaskett.
Though cut from the same cultural cloth, Plaskett has become a Canadian music icon of his own since the Hermit disbanded in 1999, and there's a certain welcoming warmth to his folk-rock songs, whereas Benvie, as a songwriter, has maintained a more observational bite and coolly analytical tone. In Benvie's artistic expression (he is also a novelist), his hope is laced with a whole lot of hard reality.
Along with secondary lyricist and singer Wayne MacPherson (who commands Computers Make the Drinks' brilliant, dystopian title track, which is a total post-punk earworm), Benvie looks at contemporary social life and modern times with an eagle eye and perhaps even a talon too.
On "Baby Be My Flock," he speaks of squawking speakers, scourges, and power surges. That song has a sick groove, which as "Lockheed Martin" and the synth-laden "Heiress in Vortex" verify, is a Bankruptcy hallmark. Great, cleverly heavy rhythmic stuff here by drummer Jeff Luciani and bassist Michael Small (Meligrove Band).
There's emotive tenderness as well, though it's framed by Benvie's detached, gritty storytelling. A father, he ponders his own daughter's future on "City Girls Talk," letting her go into the world of jobs, romance, cigarettes and "wild desires," sub-textually acknowledging what it means, as a parent, to accept raising a child in a city like Toronto. "You Are a Sculptor" is about as close to overtly crowd-pleasing that Bankruptcy get here, with an accessible guitar progression and stomp that gives way to MacPherson's edgier bridges.
Through it all, there is compelling tension on Computers Make the Drinks. It's an unabashed guitar-bass-drums-keys record made in 2019, and it has a lot to say about our shared existence. Bankruptcy have truly elevated themselves with this beautiful, fully charged blast. (Blew//Rose)