Like any great band, Two Hours Traffic always sounds most like itself. Part of the fun with new album Foolish Blood, however—besides that it provides another 40 minutes of the four-piece’s enduringly bright melodies—is spotting the hint of an influence here and there. Especially because the Charlottetown band has such righteously good taste.
“Everyone is always like, ‘I hope this doesn’t offend you,’ ” begins frontman Liam Corcoran, calling the Georgia Straight from a tour stop in Canmore, Alberta. “But this girl in Toronto, she says to me, ‘The new record kinda sounds like Elvis Costello.’ And I was like, ‘My God, that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! Those records have been a big inspiration for us.’ ”
That girl in Toronto was presumably responding to “Ready for a Look”, which is the kind of beefy pop song that the Attractions used to reliably pump out in the late ’70s. In reality, Corcoran and his bandmates have been waving the name of Costello’s old pal Nick Lowe around since they first chimed in on Canada’s indie-rock scene back in 2005 with their self-titled debut.
But even if a track like “I Don’t Want 2 Want U” could easily have fallen off Lowe’s Pure Pop for Now People, we’re hearing a slightly different Two Hours Traffic on its fourth album. First of all, guitarist Alec O’Hanley exited the band in late 2011, leaving bassist Andrew MacDonald to swap four strings for six, and Nathan Gill to step in as O’Hanley’s replacement. His arrival apparently produced a wholesale chemical change to the rhythm section if a bulked-up track like the massively romantic “Strangers on the Street” is anything to go by.
Foolish Blood is also the first THT record that wasn’t produced by their mentor and buddy, Joel Plaskett. Instead, based on the recommendation of Holy Fuck’s Matt McQuaid, the band headed to Darryl Neudorf’s rural Operation Northwoods studio in Mono, Ontario.
“The thing with Joel is that he’s a songwriter first, so he really wants to dive into the songs themselves and do a lot of preproduction,” Corcoran explains. “This time we were confident in the songs and we didn’t want them really tinkered with all that much. We even felt with [previous album] Territory that we were doing something that was perhaps a bit too safe. We knew with Joel that we’d get a good record, but we didn’t know if that was necessarily the right move. Our dream was to get out of the Maritimes and not be in a city, and we found all those things with Darryl’s studio.”
The singer adds that Neudorf was “very hands off” with the material, but he nevertheless seems to have had some vital input on the single “Amour Than Amis”, especially if that galloping drumbeat and razor-sharp rhythm guitar reminds you of anything specific. Corcoran happily admits that the band was knocked out when Neudorf played Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love” and declared, “I think it sounds like this.”
“And we went, ‘Oh my God, you’re right,’ ” Corcoran says, chuckling.
Apparently, the game of spot-the-influence isn’t just for the listener.
Two Hours Traffic plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (April 13).