Enter the Haggis: Whitelake

Zachary Houle

Toronto roots-rock band Enter the Haggis makes an edgy, serious, and dark-toned record with somewhat mixed results.

Enter the Haggis


Label: Firebrand Entertainment
US Release Date: 2012-01-24
UK Release Date: 2012-01-24

Allow me a personal digression for a moment. Toronto roots-rock band Enter the Haggis is certainly well known to me: I interviewed bagpiper Craig Downie for a feature article in the summer of 1998 when the band was more or less starting out and I was on the cusp of graduating from journalism school. I was, at the time, working as a freelancer in the Arts section of the Ottawa Citizen, a major daily broadsheet newspaper, and, to make a long story short, that feature article for the Citizen wound up being used on the front of the Arts section much to my surprise -– my first section front. My parents laminated and framed the story as a graduation gift, and so the piece and the accompanying picture of smiling, bald-headed Downie now hangs on the wall above my home entertainment system in my apartment -– an image I’ve walked by in various abodes I’ve lived in going on 14 years now. I also recall that Downie was so thrilled to get such primo coverage that he called me at work to thank me personally (he should have thanked my editor), and to offer up his apartment to me should I ever venture to Toronto for a visit -– an offer I never took up at the time. But it was a nice gesture.

That’s just a winded way of saying that, in 2012, I can report that the congenial Enter the Haggis is still an ongoing concern, and I couldn’t be happier for what appears to be a nice bunch of lads. However, some change has occurred in the band since the late 20th Century. While the album the band was touring behind in 1998 featured tweaked, fun versions of Celtic jigs, the group’s sixth album Whitelake is by turns a very serious affair. When a band covers the lauded and late Canadian folk legend Stan Rogers, as they do here on the final track “White Squall”, you know that’s a shot at respectability in their home land. Elsewhere, the overall sound of the album aims for a country-folk-rock hybrid that tries to nestle itself in with the likes of Mumford and Sons or the Decemberists, but comes off sounding more poppy, bringing to mind the acoustic soft alterna rock of Toad the Wet Sprocket -– not necessarily a bad thing. And the overall tone of the album is dark: “The Whistleblower” is about an ex-child solder returning to his home, “Devil’s Son” is about the suicide of fraudster Bernie Madoff’s son, Mark, and “Of A Murder” is about pretty much what you’d expect, subject-matter wise. Enter the Haggis, clearly, has lost a little of their sense of whimsy.

However, Whitelake isn’t really a bad album. For instance, it boasts a really great modern rock track in “Getaway Car” with its shimmery guitar line that stews under the surface before erupting during the choruses. The thing is that while the songs are generally strong -– save for the bluesy country-rock anthem “Pseumoustophy”, which comes off as kind of goofy -– the album does suffer a bit from a lack of direction. Literally every kind of musical influence is thrown into the pot and stirred -– rock, folk, country, Middle Eastern influences, jazz, Celtic, et cetera -– so what you get is a patchwork quilt of a record that isn’t really all that focused. Still, Whitelake, in its generally poppy direction, is a better effort than what fellow Canuck Celtic-folk band Great Big Sea is doing on album lately, by not copping to syrupy balladry. Slick and well-produced, Whitelake is a flawed gem that you might like in spite of its generally overly dark ambition. These are swell guys with their sights on international markets -– the group is touring Ireland in April 2012, and spends a great deal of time playing in America -– and I certainly wish no ill will towards people willing to open their homes to complete strangers out of kindness. Whitelake isn’t perfect, but, and you wouldn’t guess this from the mordant subject matter, it is made by some perfectly good, decent human beings worth supporting.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.