CANT Profile (Boston Globe, 10/21/11)

Posted on November 6, 2011

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His CANT is more than sweet nothings


The story behind “Dreams Come True,’’ the first “solo’’ album from Grizzly Bear producer and bassist Chris Taylor, sounds like a one-off gimmick. Taylor and friend George Lewis Jr., recently of Twin Shadow fame, holed up in a friend’s secluded Catskills house last year with a car full of recording equipment and nothing else. Two weeks later they had a new batch of songs under Taylor’s moniker, CANT, which had to date released a total of one song, on a split 7-inch.

Taylor, based in New York City, had by then moved to the forefront of the current field of record producers after resourceful, transformative work on the last two Grizzly Bear records, while Lewis has steadily built an independent career with chameleon sensibilities and a magnetic stage presence. Neither had plans to form a band around it, nor do any plans for the future exist, leaving the music out on its own.

As it turns out, its nonchalance might be the band’s greatest asset – “Dreams Come True’’ is a solid set of pouty dance-pop and smoky ballads that wanders into varied musical nooks and crannies with the freedom of a project that has no strings attached. It’s an effective mission statement for Taylor’s style of traversing influences and duties with ease.

This month, Taylor assembled a full band of friends that spent a week learning the songs and he’s taking them out on a tour that pulls into the Middle East on Monday night. Lewis won’t be present – his extensive Twin Shadow touring places him in Europe at this point – but the spirit of adaptation lives on.

“I love it when music can continue to be an ongoing project,’’ says Taylor, calling in from a tour stop in Denver. His restless track record reflects that. Taylor began to emerge once Grizzly Bear’s second album, “Yellow House,’’ came out. That band had first gained attention as the meandering solo project of Ed Droste, but the band members he added slowly stepped out of the shadows as strong individual voices. On paper, Taylor looked like just the bass player, but live shows expanded on that – his Beach Boys falsettos and pitch-altered clarinets often took center stage.

After 2009’s “Veckatimest’’ (which upped songwriting contributions from everyone in the band, and featured string and choral arrangements from composer Nico Muhly) and its subsequent tours, Grizzly Bear took a break and Taylor turned to focus on his record label, Terrible Records. The first full-length release was by Lewis’s Twin Shadow, which materialized last year after Taylor agreed to spend a couple months working on it. Two weeks after that was done, they headed upstate.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Boston music scene denizen that wasn’t aware of Lewis, who finally took off for the Big Apple a few years ago after maniacally fronting a rogues’ gallery of bands like Mad Man Films. He could flip with ease between crooning ’60s soul jams and careening across the stage in unsettlingly spot-on David Yow impressions. His energy was contagious, but it was his musical prowess that kept him in demand.

“He’s got really great taste,’’ says Taylor. “His music is really poignant in its ability to tell a specific story in an eloquent way. I think he’s one of the most talented musicians out there, so that’s certainly a reason to want to work with him.’’

As a songwriting tandem, the two multi-instrumentalists found a great match for each other. The album takes the icy keyboards and hushed melodies of Lewis’s Twin Shadow work and the spare guitar work of his earlier solo music and tosses it into Taylor’s cavernous production and layered arrangements. There are sleek dance tracks and frosty synth cuts like “Too Late, Too Far,’’ and ’70s electro-ballads like the crunchy “Believe,’’ but it all swims along in a drowsy sort of cough-syrup haze. The disco cuts could rub the wrong way against the delicate guitar work in “She Found a Way Out’’ if the two were too psyched on the novelty of the situation, but it’s almost willed together by a gut feeling that all of this belongs together, all the way up to the somber piano finale.

It would be easy to write the project off as mere push-and-pull between two powerful personalities, or even a time capsule of whatever was on their iPods at the time (there are certainly shades of La Roux and Itala-disco in there, and Taylor’s vocals evoke Wayne Coyne and Phil Collins), but it goes deeper. “I don’t really work like that,’’ says Taylor. “I don’t think making music about music is that interesting because you can end up as just some weird Internet sub-genre.’’

The only sure thing in this happily open-ended endeavor is that the band called CANT will continue to exist through mid-January (“That’s when we have shows booked until, so we’ll keep it until then,’’ he jokes). It might be the best-case scenario – since the pressure of following this one up with any kind of expectations would miss the point entirely.

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Originally published in the Boston Globe here.
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