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First Play: Beams, Teach Me to Love

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Andrea Warner

Sometimes when the sun makes an appearance in the middle of winter, a kind of slow heat swallows you whole. You’re still cold, but the warmth washes over your body, and you feel the glow all the way down to your toes. This is the sensation of listening to Toronto psych-folk-pop band Beams’ new album, Teach Me to Love (which you can listen to one week before its release in the CBC Music player).

Teach Me to Love is gentle where it needs to be (the appropriately dreamy “Dreamcatcher” and the first half of the glorious goodbye in “I’m Going on Holiday”), and it knows how to dial up the volume to, well, medium-loud (the ’80s-esque “Berlin, Teach Me to Love” and the ominous but catchy “Apartment in My Head”). But even in its most raucous, twang-hard moments, there are sudden downshifts into contemplativeness, like the energetic “Pull of the Night,” which drops out after a big build so Beams can sing this rueful admission:

“I’m still up and I see you’re rising
Like a loaf of bread in the oven
You look good
Oh, sun, I know you hate to see me this way
But you’ve caught me at the end of a very long day.”

Vocal duties are shared by co-frontpeople Anna Mernieks and Heather Mazha. Their harmonies are satisfying without being showy, and there’s a kind of stardust lustre in the way their voices come together. Mernieks, the band’s main lyricist and banjo player, leads the sprawling group — which also includes brothers Dave and Keith Hamilton on mandolin and singing saw/vibraphone, Mike Duffield on drums, bassist Craig Moffatt and guitarist Martin Crawford — but Beams never sounds over-stuffed or leaden. Instead, the band exercises a remarkable restraint in its arrangements, leaving space for every instrument and showcasing Mernieks’ and Mazha’s vivid and evocative vocals.

Mernieks is an unusual but charming songwriter, too, resisting a lot of rigid structures in favour of unconventional phrasing. On the stellar “My Second Time in the Mountains,” they sing, “Life’s generous — and strategic — with second chances.” There’s something disarming and wry about lines like, “How painful growing feathers would be if you noticed everyone” (from the appropriately titled “I Notice Every One”) or “You are an ocean in an ocean with no walls/ skin is just a membrane/ not a wall at all” (from “You Are an Ocean”).

Beams’ sophomore album Teach Me to Love is a great three-way handshake between heart, humour and harmony.

Teach me to Love will be released Feb. 23. Pre-order it here.

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