Cuff The Duke – Cuff The Duke

I’m sorry!

Had to get that out of the way. Now then, I’m not sure how I missed reviewing this one since I reviewed the following album years ago, and this isn’t really a skippable album in the ol’ C the D (hee!) chronology. It might actually be their best.
Track after track on here is filled with youthful originality and chance-taking, such that pretty much none are easily overlooked, with two inoffensive exceptions. Nothing here will result in nuclear non-proliferation or become a big dancey summer hit, but hey hey my my it’s all a bunch of the best that Southern Ontario could come up with without looking beyond its gentle hills and snowy highways. It’s definitely still indie-country-rock, but it’s hooky as all get out, no two songs are iike one another, and it’s just weird enough to be charming in its unpredictability.
There’s four uptempo pop songs, and they’re all solid. “Take My Money And Run” plays the most country, with a little hickish riff in the chorus to offset the soaring sorta-seriousness, the re-written “Anti-Social” overcomes an awful first couplet to make a point aboutā€¦.something? But with hooks coming out of the drums and a cool built-up solo section. “Belgium Or Peru” is a fun stomper with a nice ringing guitar chord to fill up the verses between stampings, and “I Really Want To Help You” overcomes sounding a bit too serious by getting successful poetic about the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Honourable mention to the harmonica-led opener “The Future Hangs” that sounds like it could’ve come from a younger Neil Young minus the Neil Young voice.
So that’s all gravy. But then, most of the other album tracks are filed with delightful weirdness. The lyrics are nobody’s award-winning poetry, but the music quirks and hooks carry all. “No Sleep No Heat” is a slow burner that glows like a lakeside cabin in December. “The Ballad Of Poor John Henry” has both an oddball lo-fi intro, then a great back-and-forth from a bouncy bar piano to a conventional chorus with a female vocal cooing “doooo you ever think of me?” to mix things up. Closer “It’s Over” starts off boring but then spends most of its time ascending a memorably epic piano hook. Otherwise bland piano ballad “There Was A Time” has an inexplicable chorus of the singer soulfully demanding his parents recognize that he isn’t gay (really); hey, it’s something new. Even throwaway “Meet You On The Other Side” has a guitar line in there somewhere that most indie bands would make a hook on a lead single.
It all adds up to a rather remarkable slap ‘n’ tickle, let down mostly by the aforementioned unremarkable lyrics, but kept up but relentless musical greatness, not in playing but in commitment to being interesting. And hooks. Lots of hooks hiding where you don’t expect them. Sorry you had to live in shitty apartments, guys, this one deserved to be much bigger.

8 / 10

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