Review: Cedarstrip Rocketship, “Megaphones” EP

Cedarstrip Rocketship, “Megaphones”

Toronto-based collective, Cedarstrip Rocketship, last appeared on our pages back in December 2020 (was it really that long ago???), their unique cover of “Silver Bells” featured in a holiday music edition of our recurring Snappy Singles series. At the forefront of this band is author and indie-folk artist Dan Taylor (vocals/guitars), who reached out to us earlier this year with exciting news regarding their sophomore EP, “Megaphones,” which was formally released on May 6th.

Team GDW receive a high volume of emailed submissions for our consideration, and with our limited resources, means that only a finite amount can ever be reviewed for possible coverage.  An email from Dan Taylor arrived at the time Canadian border restrictions had eased, and we were devoting time to travelling north and getting back to the live music scene – and like a handful of other “interesting” emails during that time, was saved to a Do Not Delete folder for a rainy day. 

As summer transitioned into fall here recently in Central PA, we did encounter a weekend of solid, never-ending precipitation – and thus, I skimmed that email folder with one goal in mind – to finally devote some time to this release from Cedarstrip Rocketship.  Mixed by legendary Toronto musician Ron Hawkins (Lowest of the Low), and featuring the inclusion of strings from Rachael Cardiello (Zinnia), Alex McMaster (Classic Albums Live), and horns from Ruhee Dewji (Lowest of the Low), while this may appear on the surface to be a low-key 18-minute 4-track EP affair, it instead packs quite a punch, and demands much more than a cursory solo spin.

The EP opens with an initial focus on two tracks in succession that connect to the title of this collection. “Megaphone I: Running Red Lights” is quite possibly one of the finest opening tracks on any of this year’s album releases.  Some soft acoustic guitar strums set an intimate tone, with enough amplification in the microphone to allow Dan’s vocals to dominate the airwaves.  It is quite easy to envision being transported to a small, bustling coffee shop here – the singer-songwriter perched on a stool, at the center of a small make-shift stage – a sea of heads before him, all focused on their tablets and laptops, rather than their hot mugs of Joe or the musician trying hard to earn tips.  

Cue the blast of harmonica that surely causes a few pairs of eyes to glance up from those illuminated screens, or the opening of the coffee shop doors and sound of outside traffic that permeates the room (which is my interpretation of that moment around the 2:35 mark).  “I woke up alone and I grabbed at the phone / Said ‘I’ll be there as quick as I can’ / And wheeling ‘round corners, running red lights / The windshield wipers swing to the beat of my heart.”  And in fine indie-rock fashion, all hell breaks loose for a brief moment at the 2:53 mark – I’m not offering any spoilers – you really need to spin this one to appreciate just how Dan builds up the anticipation and intensity of this crucial moment for yourself.

Cedarstrip Rocketship

Proceeding immediately into “Megaphone II: The Thinnest of Threads,” the constant (yet discreet) snare taps and deep, humming bass lines create an immediate jazz-like ambience. Dan’s vocals quickly follow, delivered in an inimitable Elvis Costello sound and style.  The perfectly timed arrival of strings float from the speakers like a melodramatic soundtrack that would accompany a pivotal moment in a television or movie scene. And as Dan’s words increase in intensity once more, the shift from that early jazz vibe to a folksy-indie pop tune is complete. “So, kick up your feet / While they’re still good for dancing / Kick up your feet / Like they’re no good for anything / Kick up your feet / They look so good for dancing / They look like / You could move like… / We all fall down.

The inclusion of “Trans Canada” – a cover of a 2008 tune from Guelph, ON indie-rockers Constantines – on paper seems like an odd choice, but in practice, slots perfectly between Dan’s three original compositions.  “Trans Canada / Hot dice keep rolling / Try to lose all or nothin’ / Now familiar, now forgotten / To get the prize / Forget the song / We’re here and gone / Trans Canada.”  Choosing to add vocal effects propels this cover into immediate indie-folk territory, and is quickly pursued by some fun and frivolous drum taps – before the horns and piano burst to life, taking full control all the way into a long and lingering instrumental finish.  I personally have no knowledge of the original version of this song – thanks Dan for piquing my curiosity to go and explore yet more Canadian music.

Wrapping up this EP is the almost six-minute long “Korsakoff,” a stunning and heart-wrenching ballad complete with a piano quintet. Opening with some very moving piano keys, the vocals have a soft delivery, along with a noticeable slower change of pace. “Some silent spark or little ember / To let us know that you remember / I just know if you were in there / That I could find you / That I could bring you back / I could bring you down.”  The simple piano accompaniment strongly accentuates the vulnerability in Dan’s voice and lines, as the key strokes gradually grow stronger – right up to the 2:32 mark where those glorious strings return, and are further elevated by horns and drums for maximum emotional impact. If you are not rotating the volume dial in the loud direction at this time and becoming fully consumed by the sole instrumentation through the remainder of the song, please, stop right now and check your pulse for signs of life.

Once the instrumentation reaches that peak, pay attention to the purposeful and deliberate winding down of the pace once more – bringing your pulse back to normal with a gradual decrease leading to an eventual fade and close. The same fade and close that brings this entire EP to an anti-climatic conclusion – a perfectly fitting anti-climatic way to bid farewell to this collection of songs.  Kudos to Cedarstrip Rocketship – “Megaphones” proves an epic 18-minute musical journey that delights the senses, tugs at the heartstrings, and leaves a long yearning to hit the repeat button once more.  I strongly suggest that you do NOT let this 4-song collection pass you by.

Photo Credit: Artist Website

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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