Music

Great Lake Swimmers: New Wild Everywhere

This is a charming and solid album, but for all Dekkar's ability to evoke landscape in his lyrics, their effect is dulled without a recording atmosphere to match them.


Great Lake Swimmers

New Wild Everywhere

US Release: 2012-04-03
Label: Weewerk/Nettwerk
UK Release: 2012-05-28
Artist Website
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

Great Lake Swimmers has always been a band - or a vehicle for frontman Tony Dekkar's songs - about atmosphere. The eponymous debut record from 2003 was recorded in an abandoned silo. Bodies and Minds, the follow-up, was recorded in a church, while the third record, Ongiara, was made in Aeolian Hall, a famous music venue in Ontario. Lost Channels, the band's 2009 record, was culled from sessions in various locations, drawing different vibes from each. Dekkar also had a revolving door of musicians around him to create different feels for his organic, haunting brand of folk, and on top of all that Dekkar drenches his hushed voice in reverb at nearly every turn, making it echo out into the weighty space he creates around these songs.

The new record, New Wild Everywhere, breaks up this approach in a number of ways. It marks the first time the band has worked in a studio, and the line-up here seems to have solidified into something permanent, as if Dekkar is finally the head of a band and not the center of a loose collective. The change makes for an album that feels sometimes self-assured and under control and at other times far too hemmed in. Though that uneven feel slows things down in places, there are some compelling sonic changes like the ones apparent on opener "Think That You Might Be Wrong". In some ways, it is another song after deep echo, but it gets there differently. Instead of dusty, ringing acoustic guitar, the song is built on a soft electric rippling with chorus effects. It offers a nice shift away from the singer-songwriter vibe the band often settles into and proves them a subtle, intricately layered unit.

Over that echoing guitar, and the other layers, Dekkar's voice is clarion clear. There's no reverb effects to be heard, no gauzy treatments to smudge the shape of his words. As it turns out, his voice is just as beautiful and tuneful without the haze, and he nails key lines in the song, like when he keens "you're larger than life" only to pull the rug out with "when the lighting is right". Dekkar's approach to songwriting hasn't changed much. He's still plainspoken, prone to nature metaphors, and hinting at something either melancholy or mystical or both just on the edges of his vision.

But there are moments here where those words, in their quiet way, catch us off guard with their insights. "Should have known, living in a storm / you'd act like thunder, and shift your form," he half-whispers in "The Knife", and you can feel the tension under his breath. On "Cornflower Blue", he captures the ghostly free feel of the expanse of a cornfield, which puts it in line with so many great landscape songs he's writing - in this way, he's reminiscent of a younger Neil Young. But he also branches out into more topical territory on songs like the BP oil spill dirge "Ballad of a Fisherman's Wife". And though the song feels a little too on the nose, Dekkar still cuts deep with lines like "the papers say they knocked us on our knees / but we were already on our knees."

At its best moments, the band finds varied canvases to lay Dekkar's songs out on. There's the warm, alt-country thump of "Changes With the Wind" or the twangy rock-pop of "Easy Come Easy Go". Sometimes they build his balladry up into something bigger, on the excellent, piano-y shuffle of "Fields of Progeny". Sometimes, they smartly go for less is more, as on the spare French-sung closer "Les Champs De Progeniture".

So Great Lake Swimmers sounds for all the world like a professional band. But that ends up being a bit of a problem over the album's 50-minute-plus running time. On the heels of Lost Channels, their most varied work, the different tones here feel like much slighter turns, as if you can hear the limitation of the studio walls on every song. For all Dekkar's ability to evoke landscape in his lyrics, their effect is dulled without a recording atmosphere to match them. So when the band tries to rough up their sound with light distortion on the title track, or give lilting strings front billing on "Parkdale Blues", the effect is interesting but somehow inorganic. The tighter playing certainly points out chemistry between the players, and that goes a long way towards making New Wild Everywhere a charming and solid entry in the Great Lake Swimmers' discography. But, in the end, what limits these songs is that, instead of hearing that titular abandon stretching out around them, what you're more likely to feel is them bumping up against those soundproof studio walls, contained in a way they shouldn't be.

6

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

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

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
7

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
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image