CD Review – Two Hours Traffic, “Territory”

Two Hours Traffic new album, Territory, crams 40 years of guitar-pop history into a half hour or so. It’s tight fit but they’ve wedged Beatles guitar lines, Beach Boys backing vocals, Undertones quavery hooks and the slacker-psychedelia of their East Coast fore-bearers, Sloan, inside their musical clown car.

It sounds a bit like an East Coast version of the New Pornographers. However, unlike that Vancouver indie-rock super-collective, Two Hours Traffic are a pretty tight group — despite having a scion of the Rankin Family and former Thrush Hermit leader Joel Plaskett in their entourage.

The band’s relentlessly tuneful historicism has worked out well. Over the last seven years, they’ve conquered CBC Radio (Two), the Polaris Music Prize (almost) and American television (The O.C. and One Tree Hill, amongst others). They’ve become Prince Edward Island’s most successful musical export, Anne aside, since ‘80s hair-metal wusses, Haywire.

In some respects, they’re like a Canadian version of one of those derivative British bands, say, the Arctic Monkeys, who are the shit with the press for 15 minutes before getting knocked off their shaky pedestal by another sunglass-totin’, riff-stealin’ rock and/or roll ensemble. Since Canada offers government arts sponsorship, enforced radio play and unfailingly polite reviews, our versions of these retro bands grow more organically, albeit tinged with a certain politeness.

And there is an overt politeness here, an unwillingness — musically or lyrically — to shock, offend or make the familiar strange. Lyrically, the band are willing to drop everything from witticisms like, “Darling are you drunk enough to kiss me?” to clunky pseudo-puns like, “Weightless one, don’t me make me wait.” And while the band stretches out musically on the ballads that dominate the second half of the album, there’s no tasty pop confection quite like (previous album) Little Jabs’ “Jezebel,” though the airy rocker “Territory” comes deliciously close.

In the end, this is a fine indie-pop album, but it leads me to suspect that Two Hours Traffic have something greater crammed inside themselves just waiting to spring out.

★★★.5 out of ★★★★★