#MoNM Day 8: Bran Van 3000’s The Garden

When I was asked to take part in a survey to name the 100 best Canadian singles ever, the first song that came to mind was “Drinking in L.A.”. There’s some weird bottled-lightning magic in Bran Van 3000’s breakthrough single that was irresistible even to my then-punk-rock-loving self. Naturally, the song didn’t even make the final list of 100, let alone top it – I don’t tend to vote for winners – but I did find out that at least a handful of other folks shared my disappointment.

Nothing on The Garden hits like that track, but asking a group to top 15 years of semi-irrational nostalgia is almost cruel. Strip away those unrealistic expectations and you’re left with a still-quite-decent pop album. The freewheeling production careens through genres like a souse through stop-signs, tossing in a banjo lick or sombre piano interlude whenever the group sees fit. A few dub discursions near the album’s end are more “campus res” than I’m comfortable with, but Garden’s finest moments – the hazy “Garden Waltz,” the steady-building “Stillness,” the album-closing “Saltwater Cats” – have a pop maturity that’s depressingly rare these days. For a party band, Bran Van is at its best when it embraces the post-party twilight, the drowsy, disconnected moments shared by a handful of stragglers who just don’t want the night to end.

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