St. John’s dance-pop that you can take home with you

Meg Warren and her band of electro-pop troubadours are as fun as a Friday night, without the Saturday hangover.

Repartee have been on the St. John’s music scene for a few years now, but their new self-titled album is their first full release, after their EP Lost Like We All Are last year.

Newfoundland musicians haven’t exactly shied away from pop influences in the past, but the last few years have seen a real explosion in the number of acts committed to perfecting an animated, danceable, and youth-driven sound – think Gramercy Riffs, Pre-Raphaelites, or Mercy, the Sexton.

Repartee are forerunners of the pop tradition, and have boiled down the raucousness of a live show into a layered collection of infectious songs – songs that aren’t vacuous or lazy attempts at grabbing a fleeting slice of radio play, but rather invested with a subtlety that demand multiple listens to get at the core of it. Ultimately, Repartee is a polished facsimile of being caught up in the crowd at the Rockhouse.

The ensemble, which now includes Robbie Brett, Keith Harding, and Tyler Lovell, is ultimately Warren’s ship to steer – the songs are driven by her spunky synth melodies and her dreamy vocals, which glide somewhere between the moodiness of Metric’s Emily Haines and the cutesy appeal of Katy Perry.

The sound is fun, glittery, and poppy, but there’s still something unsettling at play. The songs touch on love, relationships, and life, but they don’t necessarily leave you happier, or lead you into a fairytale world of happy endings – they do give you something genuine to hold onto, though, and that’s what ends up being cathartic in the long run.

“I Used to Dance,” the opening track, sets the mood for Repartee’s repertoire. It begins slow, with a somewhat distant keyboard lick that eventually embraces a fuller band sound. The tune moves in a constant yet unpredictable wave of accompaniment and withdrawal, fast and slow, so that the listener is never allowed to become a complacent bystander.

On “Missing the Sun,” one of the album’s strongest tracks that also flirts with the boundaries of progressive rock, the same sinusoidal flux of energy and instrumentation is bubbling just below the surface. Some songwriters use the verse as just a means to get to a big chorus, with a structure so rigid that any applied pressure might snap it in two – not so here, where as much attention is paid to the individual parts, to the breaks between lyrics, and to the transition from the peaks and the valleys.

Even when the band holds back, they don’t really let up. “Strong” and “Bikini Bod” are much mellower, but they’re also more vulnerable and more full of doubt. Meg Warren has a strong voice, one with plenty of self-assurance, but she’s human too, and these moments serve as reminders of that.

Stylistically, Repartee don’t venture too far from their comfort zone, always keeping it in sight. That’s not to say the album is monotonous, but it should come with a fair warning that, if you can’t get your head around the first few tracks, it’s unlikely the rest of the album will win you over. The band isn’t long past its infancy, though – there’s plenty of room for new sounds to evolve.

Repartee is a fine-tuned piece of pop machinery, with a garage-band production in a professional studio. It works for Repartee, and it lets the sound and the energy leave the darkened clubs on George Street and see the light of day – and, for all those people who used to dance, help them remember the old moves.

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