I was just introduced to Toronto’s Gentleman Reg late last calendar year, when Arts & Crafts kindly sent me Little Buildings to review. Songwriter Reg Vermue, a former touring member of the Hidden Cameras, has released a couple full-lengths, but this here is his first official worldwide release, and the label wisely wanted to introduce people like me to the best of his prior work. Vermue’s indie pop sensibilities that parallel his friends in Broken Social Scene paired with his unmistakable voice piqued my interest and I didn’t have to wait long before Jet Black found its way into my mailbox.
Songs like the mid-tempo “Falling Back” show a songwriting prowess, with restrained verses that grab on for the catchy chorus vocal, layered with equally catchy synth lines. “Coastlines” shows off guitarmony of a subtle variety and some crunchy guitar paired with pounding piano chords in the bridge. Single “You Can’t Get It Back” is a toe-tapper full of off-beat accents and breakdowns made for the drums to rev things back up with sweet fills. Vermue’s cracking into his falsetto range fits well here, especially when he’s saying something about "He’s not fucked up." Nothing on Little Buildings prepared me for the dance-floor jam of “We’re in a Thunderstorm,” however, with a bare-bones drum machine beat and blatting synth bass, but it sure fits.
Honestly, for how much I like the music and arrangements, I hate to say Vermue’s voice still irks me at times. For example, my favorite song here, “To Some It Comes Easy,” has a mellow co-ed chorus hook with a perfect little guitar countermelody filling in the gaps. On the verses his breathiness fits the soft push of the drums, but as the chorus is about to hit he lets out an exclamation that I can only describe as ‘near-yodel.’ He has a unique style and I credit him for that, but at times it comes off a bit over-dramatic.
Luckily, one of my other problems with Little Buildings is solved on Jet Black. Those ‘hits’ were a bit heavy on songs of the slow/soft variety, and while that may be one of Vermue’s strong suits, an album full of them wouldn’t be the best idea. Here we get a nice mix, from the zippy “How We Exit” to the pair of ballads, as well as the trickster “When Heroes Change Professions” which comes on like a ballad, but then gets dancey with upbeat tambourine and Eno-flavored guitar lines later on. “Rewind,” is a full-fledged ballad, though sadly it doesn’t match up with his best. It meanders around a bit before finishing with the line "There’s no point in going back / When our masterpiece is crumbling" for a minute and a half, though the band adds some nice harmonies and subtleties in the background. “Oh My God” is a reverb-heavy slow number as well, yet as much of a gentleman as he may be, I just want to hear him rock out.
Finally on a worldwide stage, Gentleman Reg puts their best foot forward with a solid outing. For old fans it’s been a long time coming, and for our non-Canadian readers I suggest you check out what you’ve been missing.