best broken-up bands: CANTERBURY was everything
Updated: Jan 31, 2018
(L-R: Pipe, Prebble, Peters, Sparks.)
Let’s talk Brits. Let’s talk dark albums to play at night in your room with the door shut and rain on the rooftop. Let’s talk (can we PLEASE) about the criminally under-recognized CANTERBURY.
I could spend days listening to Canterbury’s albums straight-through. (I have spent days listening to Canterbury’s albums straight-through, I recommend it, it’s really great.) The songs spike and soar. Listening to Canterbury is like laying outside at night under a huge sky, staring at the blurry stars until it feels like you’re falling.
You have to start with Heavy in the Day. You have to, I’m sorry, but you do. It’s their second album and it came out in 2012. I had the CD shipped out from the UK all the way to California and I remember playing it in my car that whole summer, on the way to work and field hockey practice. It spun so much in the car stereo that the white paint started to chip off the front, and I had to switch to the aux cord and my iPod.
You can love every song in a different way. The title track, “Heavy in the Day,” is dreamy but driving with plunging, layered vocals. “Something Better” is all knitted guitars and urgency. “Gloria” (dear, sweet “Gloria,” one of their oldest and most beloved songs) gets a polished re-recording that misses some of the rougher yearning of the original. It’s still catchy as hell.
But what Canterbury specializes in is pure energy. It judders through the whole album, from the sweeping chorus breakdown of “Wrapped in Rainbows” to “Saviour”’s twisty bookmark of a guitar riff. “Saviour” has got to be my favorite track. There’s a part in the bridge where Mike Sparks’ voice spirals downwards and winds into a guitar solo that pulls the whole song together. “She’s a Flame” is the understated lullaby that I fell asleep to that summer, over and over again. The last track on HID, “Seen It All,” starts with a whisper and builds darkly, bringing the album to a roaring, completely satisfying finish.
Dark Days is their third and final album. It came out 2 years later, in 2014. Canterbury had lost and replaced their drummer, Scott Peters; I was a freshman in college on the edge of a cold, dark January. I listened to the album over and over, hunched over my laptop in the empty library until it closed at 2am. Canterbury sang from that darkness, unblinking.
This album is more uneven than HID -- it lags in the middle, and nothing past track 7 held my interest. “All My Life” plods. “Hold Your Own” has powerful gang vocals and a shuddering second half, but the beat never picks up as much as it should, although Sparks’ piercing vocals and an interspersing piano keep it in the game for the full 4 and a half minutes.
All of Canterbury’s expansive power is, in Dark Days, concentrated into 3 songs that are punch-your-lights-out beautiful. The first one is “Expensive Imitation,” a call-to-action scream-along with a gritty, marching beat. It swings and smashes and holds nothing back. (The music video is big and ambitious and a must-watch.) Five tracks later, “Think It Over” is a slow, dark-gazed stunner: winding, shifty-eyed riffs and full-throated vocals layered on and on.
The heart of this haunting album, though, is “By the Trail.” It starts quiet and climbs, with vocals that twist through the background like a river or a cold wind. The lyrics are heartbreaking. “I’d do it all for the times that haunt you. I’d give it all for the ones around my sides. If I fall or lose my luck, you’ll be pulling me back up. I don’t wanna go down, down down to the ground below.” It’s the band’s love song to what they did and who they were. It’s their requiem. On the last YouTube video they posted, it plays them out until everything fades, jittering, euphoric, into black.
"By the Trail" at 5:41.
TL;DR: From Heavy in the Day, listen to: “Gloria,” “Saviour.” From Dark Days, listen to: “Expensive Imitation,” “Think It Over,” “By the Trail.”
Also see: Their first album, Thank You, full of clashy, melodic promise. Standout track: “Diver”; honorable mentions: “Eleven, Twelve,” and “Friends? We’re More Like A Gang.”
A patchwork of EPs with punchy B-sides. Standout track: “Your Face is in Hd” (from Calm Down - EP); honorable mention: “Get Out,” mostly for that beautiful bridge (from Satellite - EP)
Canterbury is: Mike Sparks - vocals, guitar; Luke Prebble - vocals, bass; James Pipe - guitar; Chris Velissarides - drums (2013-2014); Scott Peters - drums (2007-2013); Ben Bishop - bass (2005-2010)
Photo source: Canterbury Facebook.