What: Psychedelic Chamber Pop
If anything, I’m including Hopeful Monster in this issue’s showcase as a plea for Jason Ball to record another album under the moniker; however, fans of the playfully psychedelic indie-pop project shouldn’t hold their breath.
After all, it was six years between 2008’s Metatasking and 2002’s Hopeful Monster. While Hopfeul Monster might have a sparse resumé, Ball has extensive experience in Canada’s independent music scene, including stints playing with Lily Frost, The Wilderness, The Heavy Blinkers, and the Guthries.
Ball recorded the group’s first album while living in Nova Scotia, enlisting the help of members of Matt Mays & El Torpedo as well as those of his previously mentioned partners. Since then, he’s packed up and moved to Toronto where he recorded Metatasking. With Beach Boys-worthy harmonies and what can only be described as pure pop genius, Hopeful Monster is one of Canada’s best-kept rock n’ roll secrets. Ball, if you’re reading, consider this column an official plea to keep making music as Hopeful Monster, because nobody else is coming close to the sounds you’re capable of.
Ben Conoley is a freelance journalist living in Fredericton, NB. He has written for chartattack, Exclaim!, Alternative Press, and more. Ben is also a proud member of the Polaris Music Prize jury.
by Jim Kelly
Hopeful monster is an evolutionary term, referring to the process by which an organism mutates to the point of being recognized as a new, unique species. Likewise, Hopeful Monster, the band, springs from recognizable musical DNA to create something worthy of celebrating on its own terms. Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist J. Ball recorded the project at his own Nervous System Studios in rural Nova Scotia. A year in the making, this eponymous album is drenched in all sorts of chamber pop reference points. An ace arranger, Ball revels in studio layering and stacks of harmonies a la Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys or more contemporary soundscapers like The High Llamas. “Both of those references have pretty sophisticated arrangements, which is something that I’ve been working towards,” says Ball. “They’re both good shoulders to be standing on.” What keeps the baroque sound of Hopeful Monster intriguing is the infusion of roots-y elements, like steel guitar and fiddle, punches of horns here and there, and brightly strummed acoustic guitars. Among the standout tracks, “Daily Electric” offers Bacharachian horn parts, bouncy pop piano and theremin. “Goldmine” is a deftly written ballad adorned with steel guitar and vibes. And “Cobra Wings” shimmers and soothes like an afternoon in the shade of a palm tree. Ball’s voice is the perfect instrument for these tunes, evoking comparisons to pop vocal princes like Todd Rundgren or Carl Wilson. Hopeful Monster is a welcome addition to the diversity and ongoing evolution of East Coast music.