Aztec are an alternative rock four-piece hailing from Canada, and have built up a good fanbase through the old-fashioned route of touring their collective behinds off. This E.P. has been produced by a member of one of Aztec’s favourite bands All Get Out, and is remarkable for the reason that it manages to capture the elusive raw energy of a band playing live, which is so often lost in translation during the recording process.
Aztec write consistently strong melodic pop/rock songs that are always catchy and memorable, but, as with many alternative bands, their hooks are not of the obviously signposted ‘here’s the big chorus’ type, which is a corny characteristic of many of the more commercial bands. The way they double up their hooks with female backing vocals brought to mind the Dandy Warhols, but without the ‘cooler-than-thou’ lyrics, and a closer listen shows they belong more with the more quirky, offbeat likes of Modest Mouse and Manchester Orchestra.
Opening track ‘The Benefits of Being Alone’ starts with a mellotron-esque sound with a gentle, chugging guitar before lead singer/guitarist Kyle Schepens enters with the opening lines ‘Got no plans today, gonna smoke my cigarette…maybe drink the bottle here of red…’. This melancholy tone sets the lyrical mood for the whole E.P. but is soon counterbalanced by the music exploding into widescreen, a wall of guitars and Amber Banman’s raw, primal drumming setting the listener’s ears alight. Schepens’ distinctive voice reminded me of the Pixies’ Black Francis (but without the screeching).
The dichotomy and interplay between downbeat lyrics and upbeat music, along with pretty vocal melodies offset by heavy guitars, is found throughout the E.P. This is showcased best by the second song “Too Shallow To Be A Grave” (great title) which marries a surging, melodic musical backing to self-lacerating lyrics: “I am nonsense scribbled down, then erased and never found…I’m the cancer that you fight every day“. Even with words like that, it is the one of the most commercial of the five tracks, and would make a great single.
Third track “Untitled Part 1” is more mid-paced and features some gorgeous, chiming lead guitar work from Saul Sitar (the two guitarists combine well across the whole E.P.). Lyrically, it appears to be about a family reunion and nostalgia trip gone wrong (‘brothers and sisters all around, what did you bring me out here for?‘), yet, again, the overall song is uplifting to listen to.
Fourth track If I Believed In Anything is my personal favourite of the five and perhaps also the poppiest. With an understated but radio-friendly chorus and a nice harmony section, I could imagine this being very popular on college radio, proving Aztec can write a great pop song in the classic sense. Definite contender for the lead track off the E.P. and the first single, in my opinion.
Closing track East is a superb finale, a short, quirky song in waltz-time, with a quiet-loud-quiet dynamic and an explosive chorus that rivals Kings of Leon for epicness. It ends an extremely good run of songs that, for me, showcases what an E.P. can and should be. Essentially, it should aim to be a mini-album rather than one strong track and a bunch of filler. This one perfectly exemplifies the former and, with no weak links at all, is one of the best E.P.s I’ve heard in a long time.
Verdict: 8.8 out of 10