“There are a million bands and a million songs. We were in no hurry to do something mediocre.”
The five members of Canopies are huddled around a back table at Burnhearts, and guitarist-songwriter Nolan Treolo is explaining why, exactly, it’s taken over three years for the band to follow up on its thrilling self-titled debut EP. Back in 2011, the five-song Canopies came out of nowhere and took Milwaukee by storm with its impossibly hook-laden, fully formed psychedelic synth/dance-pop. It was an all-to-brief introduction, however, and a full-length offering would have to wait.
“We took our time until we were happy with it. We didn’t force bad songs,” Treolo says.
There was also the matter of transforming the group from what was essentially a home-recorded, three-man project into a functioning live unit that could play shows in the real world. Initially made up of Treolo, lead singer and co-songwriter John Marston, and drummer Craig Leren, Canopies weren’t originally intended to be a live band. “Year one was the three of us and the EP, trying to figure out how to do it live,” Treolo says.
According to Marston, “It took a year to get the band as a operational unit off the ground before we could dive into working on the album.”
That album is Maximize Your Faith, out now on Minneapolis label Forged Artifacts. It’s a space/synth-pop record of the highest order: sparkling but dreamy, starry-eyed but shot through with a bittersweet sadness that gives it all a poignant edge. Opener “Getting Older” lifts off like a Saturn rocket, “The Plunderers And The Pillagers” soars above the stars, and “Miss You Now” seems to occupy multiple musical dimensions at once. Deeper cuts like “Sparkle And Hum” hew closer to Earth, evoking gloomy goth dance parties and chemically addled head trips. For Treolo, Marston, Leren, bassist Jake Brahm, and guitarist Zevi Wolfe, it’s their best work to date, and the clear product of a cohesive band.
“I like the example that James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem used. He called LCD Soundsystem the best LCD Soundsystem cover band,” Treolo says. “And that’s kind of like how we work. Everything’s in the studio first. We couldn’t really play these songs live until they were written and recorded and done. And then it was like, ‘Okay, now we have to learn how to play that version of the song.’”
The band may describe Maximize Your Faith (the title comes from the opening lyrics of “Choose Yer Own Adventure”) as a “quiet epic,” but the record is anything but modest. The fuzzed-out stomp of “New Memories” gives way to an expertly crafted, lighter-than-air melody; “The Year Of Jubilee” takes a swirling foundation of synth ambience and builds a chilled-out, wind-swept song on top; closer “Deliverance” is all cinematic wonder, and contains some of Marston’s finest vocal work yet. It all adds up to an album that makes good on the promise of Canopies’ 2011 debut, and then some.
Similar to that debut, Maximize Your Faith was engineered and mixed entirely by Treolo, and engineered by the band—impressive, especially considering the widescreen sounds contained within. Still, Faith is Canopies’ most promoted album of their career. Far from the unannounced online release of the EP, the new record has enjoyed plenty of pre-release buzz thanks to songs being streamed on national music sites like Stereogum. Last week, the entire album was available via Spin.
“When opportunities arise for us to do cool things, we do cool things,” Brahm says. “We’re not necessarily hitting it harder than we would have otherwise, but if the music stands for itself and people are into it, we’re totally into it.”
As for the Milwaukee music scene itself (Brahm describes it as “fucking awesome”), Canopies seem to revel in its spirit of collaboration. Hello Death and Altos member Marielle Allschwang, for instance, lends vocals to “The Plunderers And The Pillagers.” It’s an unlikely pairing, but one that makes sense when considering the city’s inclusive approach to music.
“When I was in Minneapolis, it felt very competitive. It wasn’t as friendly as a vibe,” Marston says. “Here, everyone is rooting for each other.”
“I’m legitimately happy for any band that can get any kind of positive exposure,” Treolo says. “I’m totally rooting for Milwaukee.”
Maximize Your Faith is available now via Forged Artifacts. A Milwaukee release show is scheduled for Friday, December 12 at the Polish Falcon, with The Fatty Acids set to open. Bread Mothers will provide visuals. Admission is $8, though anyone who purchases a vinyl copy of the album today at the Farwell Ave. Exclusive Co. will get in for free.