If 2012’s And I Thank You got The Elwins’ metaphorical foot in the door, then their latest long-player, 2015’s Play For Keeps, is the boys blasting it wide open. And then having a party.
Even before dropping And I Thank You, their full-length debut, The Elwins – vocalist/guitarist Matthew Sweeney, drummer Travis Stokl, guitarist/keyboardist Feurd, and bassist Frankie Figliomeni – were one of Toronto’s much-hyped hopefuls to fly the upbeat indie pop flag forward.
Since its release, they’ve done the rounds at the major festivals, performed alongside some of the world’s biggest bands like The National and St. Vincent, and been trumpeted by media and industry tastemakers as a (sometimes the) band to keep an eye on. To those that listened, Play For Keeps is what you were watching for.
The 12-song collection builds atop the foundation of fun pop music they established with its predecessor. “We tried to take everything up to the next level, sonically speaking,” says Feurd. “We wanted to be really open and try a bunch of things we hadn’t done before.”
Taking the best bits of pop and rock music from the past five decades (despite the guys having only been alive for a little over two), The Elwins have delivered a dose of dancy bliss that appeals to virtually anyone. “We definitely like making songs that make people want to move,” Sweeney says – and move they will.
Cuts like “You Have Me” and opener “Bubble” are brilliantly endearing blasts of ‘60s-inspired pop not far removed from the band’s earlier efforts. But meanwhile, lead single “So Down Low” laces some ‘70s garage swagger and extra grit into their signature sound. “Bringing Out The Shoulders” borrows from the best of ‘80s synth pop, and “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” could be a Katy Perry cover. It’s not, but it could be.
It’s a broad range of influence, but effortlessly blended and easily identifiable as The Elwins. The guys credit producer Derek Hoffman with putting a welcome modern pop sheen on the record. Meanwhile, mixing came courtesy of the dynamic duo that is Gus van Go and Werner F (Hollerado, Said The Whale).
“In a way, we didn’t want to feel like we had to tie anything to the last record,” Sweeney says of their progression. “We wanted to do whatever we were feeling good about.”
One could say “feeling good” is at the very core of what The Elwins are all about, and nowhere is that more apparent than a live show, where the electric exchange of energy blurs the line between band and audience – sometimes sweaty, usually lively, always fun. With a packed 2015 touring schedule set to take them across North America, Asia and Europe, where they’ve had major success on three separate tours supporting And I Thank You, fans will have plenty of opportunity to join the party.
But while the music and performances never take themselves too seriously, the same can’t be said for the band itself. “We’re very passionate about this, and we have lofty goals for this album” Sweeney says. “For us, this is our job. We’re about pushing ourselves as hard as we can to reach our goals.”
As of now, that goal is to have Play For Keeps reach as many ears as possible; fortunately, the music is so magnetic, so immediately inviting, that it won’t be much of a challenge. The work gets done by day, but come quitting time, The Elwins send out an open invitation to let loose and have fun.
Take them up on it.