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Partner - Saturday the 14th EP Music Album Reviews

The Canadian power-pop duo take underappreciated micro-genres for a test drive in a bid to make music that’s as funny as their lyrics.

Partner, the endearingly dirtbaggy duo of Josée Caron and Lucy Niles, lie somewhere on the spectrum between Tegan and Sara and Bill & Ted. Their 2017 debut, In Search of Lost Time, paid joyous homage to pot, pussy, and the golden age of power-pop, with wickedly funny songs about lusting after lesbian jocks and hitting the supermarket while too stoned to function. Lost Time flew under the radar in the United States, but at home in Canada, the record netted Partner a nomination for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize.

A singular gift for humor is at the heart of Partner’s work. Their new EP, Saturday the 14th, takes this project a step further; the music itself is now as critical to Partner’s comedy as their lyrics. On these five songs, Partner devote their considerable skill to shining up underappreciated sounds, departing from the stylistic uniformity of their debut to explore several distinctly lowbrow micro-genres.

The lead single, “Long & McQuade,” is the sound of Nirvana as rendered by Kurt Cobain-worshipping suburban teenagers. With no life experience to speak of, these aspiring rockers are reduced to constructing an epic song around a trip to Long & McQuade, Canada’s staid answer to Guitar Center. There, they drop their allowance on flame-spackled guitar straps and hog the demo instruments. Mercifully, Caron and Niles have more charisma and stronger musical chops than the dweebs they’re skewering, making for a rewarding parody. “Stoned Thought” is more subtle, plumbing elements from the iPod of a weed-loving college freshman: a fried funk bassline here, a smattering of bongo drums there, some whistling pipe-organ keyboard for good measure. Mirroring the narrator’s attention deficit, each instrument holds its own for a phrase or two at a time before disappearing into the smoke.

The overtly goofy “Tell You Off” opens with an orchestra of barnyard sounds and bounces along on an impish, folksy rhythm. It recalled a band from the primordial ooze of Canadian childhood—was it Barenaked Ladies? The giddy Maritime folk of Great Big Sea? Finally, I recognized the unmistakable influence of the Arrogant Worms, the seminal Canadian comedy-rockers whose hits, like “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate,” made them minor national icons. It’s a treat to see Partner, like Amy Nelson and Captain Tractor before them, working in a distinctly Canadian tradition of musical comedy.

If all of this sounds haphazard, or even sloppy, fear not. Just as Caron and Niles grounded Lost Time’s randy humour in masterful construction, they steer Saturday the 14th with careful attention to the intricacies of maligned genres. The jam-band favorites of collegiate stoners, the meanderings of amateur garage bands, the niche comedy derived from Maritime shanties; none of these are critical bait. But all contain goofy, genuine pleasures, which Partner mines to mostly glorious effect. The exception is “Fun for Everyone (Minions),” which fuses the musical stylings of pre-YouTube flash animation with the ubiquitous meme of Facebook moms. It’s stiff and shticky, in contrast to the genuine warmth of the other, funnier songs.

The final track, “Les ailes d’un ange,” doesn’t bear a wisp of humour on its surface. Lyrically, musically, and linguistically—physical copies of the EP include a version sung in English—it is an unabashed borrowing of Céline Dion’s bilingual power balladry. We hear the requisite soaring guitar solo on the bridge and the requisite soaring key change on the final chorus, but never a wink at the song’s origins, nor a smirk at the sound’s inherent corniness. Nestling lyrics about assumption and damnation on a soft bed of piano and gently insistent strings, Partner drives in Dion’s lane for fun, allowing themselves to be swept away in her sparkling grandeur.

Listening to “Les ailes d’un ange,” I recalled a moment in Carl Wilson’s indispensable contribution to the 33 ⅓ series, Let’s Talk About Love, in which Wilson, a devoted Dion hater, finds himself weeping at her Vegas residency. “The songs of devotion began to probe at the open sore of my own recent marital separation, and even coaxed a few tears,” he wrote. “For a few moments, I got it.” He cringes, recalling “what a subcultural snob I was… how vigilant I was against being taken in—unaware that I was also refusing an invitation out.” Rather than resting in the mode of polished power-pop, Partner have written themselves an invitation out of their comfort zone—and perhaps yours.

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