Sometimes Canadian pop music is virtually indistinguishable from the kind we make down here. The best of it--Neil Young, for instance--fits right into North America's finest rock traditions. Other times, as with, say, the Barenaked Ladies, Canadian pop seems awkwardly foreign, like it could just as easily be the latest sounds emanating from Poland's hit parade.
Bran Van 3000--a Montreal-based (and largely Anglophone, thank you) musical collective whose 1997 debut album Glee has already gone gold up north--seems to fluctuate between those two sensibilities. Led by filmmaker/video director James Di Salvio, Bran Van 3000 have the perfect combination of innocence and contrivance, knowing indulgence, and dumb charm to make the U.S. release of Glee (which includes three bonus tracks) suggest the soundtrack to a very hip Afterschool Special.
The key selling point here is lighthearted eclecticism, and there's plenty of it: Bran Van have their way with hip hop and reggae, metal, pop, soul, and--perhaps most self-consciously--country and techno (try the drum 'n' bass/country song "Willard" or the trip hop 'n' western "Supermodel"). Problem is, in 1998, the intermingling of music styles is so all-pervasive that it's practically a cliché. Besides, the trouble with the eclecticism of the 32-member Bran Van is that it becomes difficult to define a consistent musical voice amid all of Glee's blurred visions.
Yet, while Bran Van nods to '80s artists as predictably disparate as Quiet Riot and The The, their most interesting reference points are drawn from more recent history. "Couch Surfer," an ode to being a penniless moocher, and "Drinking in L.A.," about wasting time in Southern California, take us back to the glorious slacker-ific days of "I'm a loser baby," complete with white rapping and a sampler/live instrument concoction. In at least one way, Glee is truly a work of prescience: the first recorded document of the inevitable Early '90s Revival.