Land of Talk is a band whose sound spoke to me at a personal level. From the grimier throwback rock of their early work to the more assured work on later albums, it was all put together on an underpinning of brooding emotional turmoil that threatened to come to the forefront at any moment. And the trajectory of their career, with tragedy lurking behind every triumph, was what every depressed person needs to assure themselves that it’s not worth the effort in the first place.
In 2006, they released the optimistically-titled Applause Cheer Boo Hiss EP to critical acclaim and it instantly took a place in every music playlist and mix-CD I created. The band spent years crafting a proper full-length follow-up that might live up to that slow-burn hype. By late 2008, when it hit store shelves, they’d already lost a founding member as the drummer quit.
But the album, titled Some Are Lakes, brought along more praise and a spot on the Polaris longlist for that year. A tour followed, with them opening for Broken Social Scene, which is about as good an opportunity as any Canadian indie band could hope for at the time. Land of Talk’s lead singer, writer, and guitar player Elizabeth Powell even joined them on stage, becoming a part of the collective. But partway through that breakout tour, she announced that Land of Talk would be going on hiatus as their guitar player left to join The Dears, another, more established Canadian indie-rock band.
To make matters worse, the strain of constant performance–the symptom of their growing success–was taking a real, physical toll on Powell. In early 2009, she was unable to continue at all and had to undergo surgery to remove vocal polyps that had begun to hemorrhage. She couldn’t talk anymore, let alone sing, which is kind of a big deal for a professional singer. And as Powell’s distinct vocals, along with her songwriting, were integral to the band’s sound, the situation looked dire.
Yet Powell still refused to give up and continued to write even as she had to retrain her voice from the ground up during recovery. By the end of the year, they’d issued another EP to go along with a West Coast tour.
Released in late 2010, Cloak and Cipher was Land of Talk’s second full-length album and also the result of Powell’s time off. Again nominated for a Polaris, it featured a cross-section of Canadian indie-rock power as contributors, friends and connections that Powell made during their rise. After all the struggles, Land of Talk was back on top and ready to take their place amongst those peers.
And then they gave up. Mental exhaustion overtook even the physical strain and Powell herself left, putting the band on hold so suddenly that even their management didn’t know what was going on. Eventually, the hiatus was confirmed and with no indications to the contrary, it seemed like it could be permanent.
I never saw them live while they were active and figured that now I never would. I put that dream in a box and shoved it under my bed so that I wouldn’t have to think about it. The better part of a decade came and went without a peep from Powell.
Last week, while casually checking a site for local concert listings, I saw an advertisement for a Land of Talk show. I did some backtracking and found that they’d reformed, put out a new album, and started up a new North American tour. I pulled that box back out from under my bed, threw it open, and with my dream in hand I went about looking for tickets. Maybe I could see them live after all.
But the only local show was a private, invite-only gig in a tiny club and I’d missed the window for a pass. The next closest show was in Montreal, and on a weeknight. Still, my desire was enough that I could swing that if I had to, I decided. But it was sold out by the time I clicked the link.
In the span of ten minutes, I’d gone from not thinking about a band I loved, to a wide-eyed feeling of exhilaration that I might realize something that I’d previously thought impossible, to the soft pressure of another defeat.
Nothing is ever perfect. Nothing ever goes as planned and reality never quite lives up to expectations. We all know the cliches.
Powell had begun work on more songs before the hiatus, but a fatal error in her working laptop destroyed an album’s worth of demos. Then her father had a stroke. According to her, she gave up on music entirely for a year after that, and who could blame her?
I know as much as anyone that disappointment is the least of what we risk every time we open up. So, what if I’d never found out? What if I’d left that box collecting dust? I’d have avoided that disappointment, but I also wouldn’t have found another album that I already adore.
Nothing is ever perfect, but focusing on those ideals is a trap that keeps us from noticing the achievements we do make, the goods things we do have.
Will I get to see Land of Talk play live? Probably not this year, and maybe not next year, either, but I’m willing to wait. As Powell herself says, “You’ve got to keep hoping no matter what anyone says. You never know.”
I am not a religious person, but I do keep a kind of faith in that. For better or worse, that’s who I am.