Full disclosure before diving into a review of Terminal City: I’ve never visited Vancouver. It’s important to mention this since the album is so focused on the changing composition of the place. But hey, I live in a city full of gentrification so the themes are easy to relate to.
While the projects come and go, the songwriting of Adrian Teacher remains constant: quick takes on life and society with catchy vocal hooks delivered with a smile, wink and nudge. The debut full-length album from Adrian Teacher & The Subs carries on the torch of previous Teacher-fronted bands Apollo Ghosts and Cool TV in the 2:30 to 3 minute song format.
It can be difficult to separate the anxieties that are caused by personal events and those of the world at large that would happen regardless of an individual’s existence. On “Victory Square”, the song is built around a chorus of questioning and shouting “How could you do that to me? Baby”. Then two songs later on “Charmless Babes”, the scene of a once affordable community — the type with mom and pop shops — is gutted and replaced with pricey taco stands, breweries and a place where “friends that cannot make ends meet/ Nothing left you’ve been priced out and left town.”
On the title track, once again the helplessness blues continue. The title shares the name with a Vancouver free independent weekly magazine that, like many alt-weeklies across the country, no longer exists after closing up shop in 2005. “Terminal City” features the dialogue between a woman talking up all the new and exciting entities of the neighbourhood to somebody who has lived there for ten years. “We all know that/I cannot save it!”.
When change happens, skipping town seems like the easiest way to avoid what is feared as shown by the whole If-Trump-is-President-we’re-moving-to-Canada rhetoric. But on the track “Forget America” the blame is placed solely on city. “This city/Is Sick/But I’m not/Sick of it/It’s your fault/It’s my fault?/Who sold it?/Forget America.”There may be themes of helplessness throughout the album, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Change is a challenge, but not an excuse to give up.
Yes, Terminal City is Vancouver-centric and the album is full of references to Vancouver landmarks that can easily be glossed over. But the feelings of change, on a personal and wider level, are universal. Anybody can be a bundle of nerves. Anybody can feel lost as people come and go and old haunts turn into overpriced yuppie magnets.
Along with universal themes, Terminal City is littered with choruses that are instantly familiar ear-worms that can be sung along with on the first listen. From live performances to recorded music, Adrian Teacher has knack for creating communal experiences, sharing smiles and making people feel good even when touching on some darker subject matter. If Adrian Teacher & The Subs don’t leave a smile on your face, we’ll, I guess you’re doing it wrong.