If there’s a single sentence that sums up the Modus Operandi of PS I Love You, Paul Saulnier, lead singer/guitarist/bassist for the band, already said it in the recent issue of Spin. “I’m just trying to play with passion,” the perpetually bearded Saulnier told Spin, in a piece about the decline, and recent resurgence, of guitar solos. Passion comes bursting out of the Kingston, Ontario, duo effortlessly, and whether people think that guitar solos are “corny” is irrelevant. PS I Love You, after all, are a band that is all about Big Emotions, making art in hopes of elusive, transcendental feelings, making heart-on-sleeve, wide-eyed distillation of ‘90s alt-rock fuzz into obfuscated songs about being in a relationship and fighting over who does the dishes.
If “just trying to play with passion” is the ethos, then consider the band’s sophomore album, Death Dreams, the perfection. Building on the emotional core of debut, Meet Me at the Muster Station, Death Dreams is 11 songs of buzzing, fist-pumping, affecting rock, an album practically tailor made for staring longingly into a great expanse and considering existence. From highlight and lead single “Sentimental Dishes,” to the death ride thrust of “Princess Towers,” Death Dreams is one of this year’s best indie rock albums.
Sophomore albums from blurry, rocking bands can usually be accompanied by phrases like, “accepts the spotlight,” or “moves front and center” in relation to the singer (seemingly) having more confidence. That’s not Saulnier’s game here, nor it will probably ever be: Dude has always seemed like he became the lead singer out of default, since drummer Benjamin Nelson is often conjuring up nuclear strikes on his kit. Saulnier might let a few more choruses slip out between his Wall of Riffs this time out—“Future Dontcare” has a wistful chorus that can actually be sung along to—he plays like a guy who has finally found the right way to express himself to a world that doesn’t consider him. And often, that’s through his awe-inspiring—and yes, passionate—guitar solos. The vaguely western and lyrical “Saskatoon” is a highlight, while “Don’t Go” impresses for sheer intensity. But they all take honorable mention to “First Contact,” the show-stopping album closer that begins as a campfire, acoustic strum along about watching the movie First Contact and 2012, which culminates in a guitar solo that takes over as Saulnier’s voice throughout the last two verses.
PS I Love You seem doomed to forever be in the “underrated” end of the indie band continuum, as they are less bright-eyed and cheery than Japandroids (their closest analog), and their refashioning of ‘80s and ‘90s indie doesn’t have the same critical cache as Yuck, for some reason. But they also seem destined to wall off a selection of fans that will sing their praises long after Death Dreams’ promotional cycle. Consider me among them.