Although Siskiyou formed as an unusual Canadian folk-rock band in 2010, their new album, Not Somewhere, is very much the work of one man, Colin Huebert. Huebert recorded the original tracks on his own, but then life got in the way. Huebert eventually brought in additional musicians to add minimal but important accompaniment that completed the initial stark recordings to become Not Somewhere.
Not Somewhere opens with “Stop Trying”, a song originally commissioned by artist/designer Stefan Sagmeister for The Happy Film, an autobiographical documentary about Sagmeister’s systematic search for happiness. “Everything ain’t goin’ the way I planned,” sings Huebert three times at the beginning of the song, before concluding, “so I’m gonna sit myself down right here and see what happens to me if I don’t do a goddam thing.” “Stop Trying” also includes a key line of dialogue from Sagmeister’s film that provides both the album’s title and its philosophical bent: “Trying is the problem: you’re trying to get somewhere as if you’re not somewhere.”
It is tempting to peg Not Somewhere as a male midlife crisis album, and there is compelling lyrical evidence to back that claim. In the second song, “What Ifs”, Huebert notes, “I am a family man / I take the trash out when I can,” before launching into a list of his possible past/alternative lives and eventually sighing, “I could use a break from all this” over and over. Plus, two songs reference erections. The first reference, in “Unreal Erections/Severed Heads” might or might not be about those kind of erections, but the reference to “painful erections” mentioned as one of many drug side effects in “Nothing Disease” most certainly is about the kind of erections middle-aged men often think/fret about, whether they want to or not.
In the end though, Not Somewhere could be about anybody’s anxiety. There is certainly enough existential dread to go around these days and, yes, we all could use a break from it. But Not Somewhere doesn’t provide a respite from the dread so much as it revels in it. Or it is at least resigned to the dread.
While Not Somewhere seems like a concept album, the story reveals itself more in static diary-like entries than any conventional narrative. And – spoiler alert – Not Somewhere ends where it begins, with Huebert declaring once again in “Stop Trying (Jubilant Reprise)”, “Everything ain’t goin’ the way I planned / So I’m gonna sit myself down right here and see what happens to me if I don’t do a goddam thing,” before a horn section ends the album with a brief instrumental bit plucked from the ending of “Unreal Erections/Severed Heads”.
Musically, Huebert has created a relatively straightforward folk-rock album, with the emphasis far more on the folk than the rock. “What Ifs” has an acoustic Pixies vibe, while “Temporary Weakness” sounds as if it could have been one of the more contemplative songs from Pink Floyd’s post-Syd, pre-Dark Side period. Oddly, “Untitled 32 (Live Off the Land)” feels like it could have fit on Roger Waters’ much-maligned The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking album, which, in this case anyway, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
While Not Somewhere is generally a hushed album, there are enough odd bits of music to keep curious listeners interested, most notably the squawky horns that close “Unreal Erections/Severed Heads”, and then return as the album’s coda.
Not everyone will love Not Somewhere, and even those who love it may find they need to be in a certain mood to hear it. It’s also a safe bet that some listeners might viscerally hate the album. Love it or hate it, Siskiyou’s latest album gets under your skin. Not Somewhere is bold and weird and deeply human, uneasy listening at its finest.