pressed record on “Eek It’s Halloween,” the sweetly nostalgic tune that
sits at the centre of Irrational Anthems, Ryan Dahle had only the vaguest
idea of where the song would go. He had a jumble of lyrics, the skeleton
of a melody, an acoustic guitar and, most importantly, Greenhouse
Studios, the Vancouver recording studio that he calls home. When you
listen to the album, you still hear that first take — from the laugh when
Dahle sings “I’ve been a trash bag, I’ve been a tree” to the artfully
hidden crack in his falsetto.
To Dahle, capturing that kind of creative spark is one of the main
benefits of life in a studio. The other benefit, naturally, is that it
allows Dahle the time to perfect his creations. Spontaneous gems like
“Eek It’s Halloween” share space on Irrational Anthems with the
meticulously minimal rocker “Shutdown” and the tastefully orchestrated
“Lion Piano,” while lead-off track “Chop Chop” has been honed to
radio-rock perfection over the course of seven versions. Each track is
both fully developed and fully distinct.
Dahle’s ear for pop-friendly idiosyncrasy is everywhere on Irrational
Anthems. So is his unmistakable voice, a pinched blend of sweetness and
grit that somehow makes lines like “Roll up your ‘On Guard’ or I’m
inclined to use the trap door” make their own inevitable kind of sense.
From the songwriting and performances to the production and mixing, every
second of the album is the product of Dahle’s creativity.
That kind of hands-on commitment is only natural. Dahle has always been
adept at crafting obliquely hook-laden melodies and fractured lyrics,
first as songwriter for The Age of Electric and then as frontman for
Limblifter, collecting 7 top 11 radio hits, 4 Juno nominations and a
Casby award between the two bands. Since then, he’s practically (and now
literally) lived in the studio, collecting gear, experimenting with
production techniques, searching for new sounds and working with
well-known Canadian musicians like The Manvils and Hot Hot Heat.
Despite the fact that Irrational Anthems is the first album Dahle has
released under his own name, it’s not strictly a solo affair. Megan
Bradfield (The Salteens, A.C. Newman) contributes bass, double-bass,
cello, clarinet and vocals, and Dahle’s brother Kurt is back, bringing
both his experience in indie-pop sensations The New Pornographers and the
type of intuition that only brothers can share. One of the biggest
inspirations isn’t even musical — a collaboration with renowned Canadian
visual artist Steven Shearer led to both a strong friendship and a huge
influence on the album art and the music itself.
Instantly satisfying and deeply inventive all at once, Irrational Anthems
contains a blend of spontaneous creativity and meticulous artistry that
can only come from experience. It’s not a redefinition or a statement of
purpose — it’s the album Dahle’s career has been leading to.