Published Nov 09, 2020Anyone who has lived in Toronto for longer than a couple of years has probably felt the sting of gentrification: skyrocketing rents, shiny glass condos by the lake, beloved local hotspots forced out by developers.
Outer Rooms know the sense of betrayal that comes from watching the city you live in become increasingly unliveable — the feeling of loving a place that doesn't love you back. On third album All Will Be Well & All Will Be Well, etc., etc., the Toronto trio set their sights on a changing city, pepping lyrics with hyper-local references and universal lamentations about feeling like an outsider in your own neighbourhood. "All day Toronto is growing into glare / Climbing up toward the cranes in the air / The city's building something / Extending beyond our reach," frontman Andrew Fitzpatrick howls during the devastating climax of opener "Thunder East."
With songs that namecheck the Don Valley Parkway, Castle Frank subway station and the Ford brothers, there's no mistaking Outer Rooms' Toronto pedigree. That extends to the arrangements, which channel bands like Broken Social Scene and Great Bloomers (hey, remember them?) with group shouts, echoing post-rock ambience and spiky indie rock crescendos. Throw in some fidgety post-punk sing-speak (the second half of "Step Twice") and a couple of slow-burning drum machine ballads ("All Will Be Well," "Station"), and All Will Be Well sounds like a perfect update on circa-2010 indie rock. It's the kind of easily digestible pop-rock sound that goes down easy and acts as the perfect vehicle for the band's bittersweet pathos and eloquent, inquisitive lyrics.
Outer Rooms stretch their wings with a trilogy of numbered songs in the album's back half, as they turn their focus away from gentrification and instead ruminate on memories on death and childhood loss. But even here, it's the minute details that hit hardest, rather than the reflections on mortality — an anecdote about "the Blockbuster down the street" is the lasting takeaway from "Kids of Good (I)"; in "Backyard Ghosts (III)," it's an offhand "Hey, Fred, hey, what the fuck?"
It's not that Outer Rooms are saying anything particularly unique; their experiences of TTC commutes and getting forced out of dilapidated apartments are depressingly relatable and almost mundane in their frankness. For Toronto dwellers — or anyone from a big, rapidly developing city — these lyrics almost feel like small talk. And that's what makes All Will Be Well so comforting, as it resembles the cathartic experience of complaining about the home you fantasize about leaving but probably never will. (Genuine Friends)