Sloan is one of the most successful Canadian bands of the past decade, which serves as both a blessing and a curse. While they were well-known in their homeland, where their Beatlesque power pop became a radio staple, they have had a difficult time breaking into the American market because label after label in the U.S. has either failed to market the band's palatable mainstream indie rock pop or just failed altogether and gone out of business.
Andrew Scott (drums), Chris Murphy (bass, vocals), Patrick Pentland (guitar, vocals), and Jay Ferguson (guitar, vocals), formed Sloan in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1991.
Ferguson and Murphy had previously played in the local band Kearney Lake Rd., a group inspired by underground American bands like R.E.M. and the Minutemen. Scott and Pentland also played in various local bands, but the group didn't come together until Murphy and Scott met each other while studying at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design. The group debuted in the spring of 1991, and within a few months, their feedback-laden live shows had gained a sizable audience. Early in 1992, they released the Peppermint EP on their own Murderecords, and by the summer, they had signed with the red hot U.S. major DGC.
Sloan's debut album, Smeared, a record where Sonic Youth met Beatlesque pop, appeared in October in Canada and in January, 1993, in America, and it was greeted with positive reviews. While the band had a gold album in Canada, the good press didn't translate to sales in the U.S., even as the group supported the Lemonheads and fIREHOSE at several concerts.
For their second album, 1994's Twice Removed, Sloan simplified their sound considerably, concentrating on melodic, hook-laden power pop. DGC wanted the album to be noisier, yet the band won its fight to keep it bright and melodic. As a result, DGC failed to promote the album upon its release, especially in America, even in the wake of good reviews and strong Canadian sales. The band toured relentlessly to support Twice Removed; the record was named "The Best Canadian Album of All Time" in a poll by Chart! Magazine and SPIN called it one of the "Best Albums You Didn't Hear This Year," but DGC was not willing to give the band its full labor or financial support. By the end of the year, the group decided to cancel their remaining shows and think about whether they wanted to even pursue a career further.
Sloan re-emerged in the summer of 1995, playing a handful of concerts and releasing a single, "Same Old Flame," on their own Murderecords. Toward late summer, Sloan decided they did, in fact, want to continue on as a band, and that winter they recorded One Chord to Another, a record which expanded the power-pop approach of Twice Removed on a small budget. Although its origins were modest, the album was a huge Canadian hit upon its June 1996 release. After much negotiation, Sloan signed with the fledgling EMI subsidiary the Enclave in early 1997, and One Chord to Another was finally released in the U.S. in the spring of 1997 to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Of course, Enclave would soon go under. Having weathered the demise of yet another American label, Sloan forged on, battered but unbroken they continued to deliver perfect pop records. Moving away from the ornately Beatlesesque production of the previous One Chord to Another, the sound on their next disc, Navy Blues, was more down and dirty and indicated a heavy Big Star influence, but its fuzzed-out guitars and lumbering drums were nevertheless emblematic of the sonic shifts which characterized the entire record.
A double live album, 4 Nights at the Palais Royale, was released by murderecords in 1999 as was a new studio effort on their own label entitled Between the Bridges. The tighter arrangements and the band's naturally engaging songwriting made Between the Bridges a standout in an already impressive discography. Sloan was making harder-edged, bluesier albums, but they still sounded like a pop band: innovative, pure, and energetic. Between the Bridges presented the best face of Sloan: eclectic, energized, and cohesive
Their next release, aptly titled Pretty Together, may have been the first Sloan album that sounded like it was made by the band as a whole, and not the four individual singer/songwriters. Sloan had always written contemplative songs, but on Pretty Together they took a turn for the decidely more serious with songs that were more mature than ever before. All in all, Pretty Together displayed the band members' styles as becoming more blurred, and with pleasing results.
Action Pact, Sloan’s KOCH Records debut, expands upon the band’s muscular leanings, due primarily to their decision to hire a producer for the first time in its history. Under the direction of Tom Rothrock (producer of artists as diverse as R.L. Burnside, Beck, and Elliott Smith), the songs gel like on no previous Sloan release. The band really plays to its strengths on Action Pact, showcasing remarkably tight vocals, the power of drummer Andrew Scott, and the arena-rocking, bouncy, hand-clapper songs that defined part of Sloan's post-Navy Blues career.
Action Pact is a streamlined album, recorded with minimal overdubs (read no keyboards), which opens in the classic Sloan one-two punch with "Gimme That" and "Live On" by songwriters Chris Murphy and Patrick Pentland respectively. It's on the fifth track, the Jay Ferguson-penned "False Alarm," where the band starts to really stretch out into fresh territory that never lets up the intensity through the rest of the album. The brilliant pop of Pentland's "I Was Wrong," the jerky tension of "Who Loves Life More," and the elliptical "Reach Out" are all magnified by the obvious inspiration Sloan have found while the lovely "Fade Away," which, even with crunchy guitars, manages to hold onto the delicacy Ferguson always brings to the table and provides a perfect album closer. Lyrically, the members of Sloan continue down the more thoughtful path they first explored liberally on Pretty Together, tackling subjects from the troublesome dichotomy the touring musician faces when a hint of desire to settle down emerges to the defensive argument against the critics who charge the band with treading too close to its heroes. Action Pact is another step ahead for Sloan, which is an achievement they should be proud of considering the superb quality they've shown for the better part of a decade.
One thing that no one can deny about Sloan is that they can't be ignored as a band always willing to bring out the fun and the rock & roll. They always wear the hearts of their influences proudly on their record sleeves, but never succumb to loss of originality for the sake of trying too hard to impress upon the listener the validity of their roots.