[26 August 2007]
Imagine a Michigan-born album full of rich instrumentation, whispery and sweet vocals, and vivid, imagistic writing. No, not that one. Really. The Winter Water Wonderland’s own Great Lakes Myth Society has a few things in common with Petosky’s favorite son, but not enough to ever confuse the two after listening to Compass Rose Bouquet. The product of three different singers/songwriters—brothers James Christopher and Timothy Monger, and Gregory Dean McIntosh—the album is nonetheless possessed of an admirable consistency. If it’s not the most revolutionary or jaw-dropping album you listen to all year, Compass Rose Bouquet drops plenty of hints that GLMS has that sort of ambition in them.
Each writing member of the band imbues their songs with romantic imagery and precious syntax, from James Monger’s leadoff “Summer Bonfire” (“Moonlight reaps what the midday sews / All the yearlings leave their mothers when the summer bonfires glow”) to McIntosh’s lovelorn “March” (“Time would stop and in silence shake / When I’d shape my arm around your waist”). Maybe a little too precious. Every song aches with earnest desire to be adored, evident not only in the language’s calculations, but the knowing voices that deliver them. But the delicacy with which the band handles its songs isn’t a dealbreaker. The aforementioned “March”, for example, benefits from a strong vocal performance by its author, sailing over too-fussy lines like “So, I’m your secret locked up in the box / Where you keep your hopeless serenades” on a sea of thoughtfully arranged orchestration. Plus, is it not refreshing to hear a band overextend on occasion, as opposed to the alternative?
At the very least, each song on Compass Rose Bouquet has an astounding eye for detail, and its best moments set the mind reeling at what might happen as the band grows more adept at editing itself, or even better, grows restless and starts fucking shit up. “Eastern Birds” is a flurry of New England dream-speak, “Full steam daily / Puffing like a fisherman’s pipe”, “Green lights changing / Cold Appalachian towns”. “Queen of the Barley Fool” is catchy and ebullient with the album’s best, yet bizarre line “I hear the jukebox playing your Smithsonian Folkways tunes / And all the drunks are singing and they think they’re in love with you”. Is this for real? Is there really a bar that features Smithsonian Folkways records on the jukebox, and if so, patrons actually get piss-drunk there? There’s nothing about that line that doesn’t surprise. “Stump Speech” is the most economical of the whole lot, with Timothy Monger’s voice filtered nicely through some tinny effect, and a simple classic rock ‘n’ roll groove supporting uncluttered lyrics to lost love.
Great Lakes Myth Society sounds like a band united in their vision, with five members who could each wield a small orchestra’s worth of instruments on their own, but who strive to give each song just enough of what it deserves. Intricate and layered, songs like “Midwest Main Street” are nevertheless spry, not weighed down by too much, or inappropriate sound. “Days of Apple Pie” deals in minor chords, yet remains breezy by way of high lonesome harmonica and the elastic pull of upright bass. It’s Americana as performed by composition majors, by talented musical minds fascinated with the nostalgic images of their youths, seeking to win back the vistas and landscapes of the nation from mainstream, homogenized culture and give it once again to the realm of myth: “In the mornings down at the five & dime / Watching golden pennies pancake on a sunburnt railroad line”. They’re not quite there yet, but it’s comforting to know that’s the direction they’re headed.