Monday, June 1, 2009
Lost Channels - Great Lake Swimmers
Great Lake Swimmers
SCQ Rating: 73%
The first time I ever heard Great Lake Swimmers, on their 2006 album Ongiara, I was doggedly unimpressed. Yes I was in a foul mood, having just lost an anticipated night of partying in Toronto to sadsack drama. And yes, I was hungover; my spine pressed to the backseat hoping for anything meaningful to spew from the Volvo’s speakers. So maybe I wasn’t in the mood for harmless folk songs half-heard against the open window cacophony of highway driving but regardless, the Toronto five-piece inevitably, unjustly, fell on deaf ears.
Fast-forward three years and my curiousity (aroused by a growing love for folk and, frankly, this gorgeous album art) is rewarded by first-listen ‘Palmistry’; a jangly pop song in the style of The Byrds sporting Tony Dekker’s smooth yet preoccupied timber. With the richly percussive zen of ‘Everything is Moving So Fast’ and the lively mandolin-led ‘Pulling On a Line’ hot on its heels, Lost Channels opens like a beacon for full-band folk enthusiasts. While at that mark – the end of the third track – I quit listening and purchased Lost Channels, I can acknowledge now that its sequencing was something of a ruse; as absorbing as all twelve tracks are, this collection is clearly top-heavy. As the back-porch banjo of ‘The Chorus in the Underground’ ushers in the record’s second half, we’re welcomed into its slower, foggier end. ‘Stealing Tomorrow’ lurks the vacant corners of disconnected liaisons with hazy ambience, while ‘River’s Edge’ drifts similar sonic terrain with a decidedly gospel vibe.
Instead of disappointing after such a vital start, this entire second half, rounded out by the redemptive ‘Unison Falling Into Harmony’, characterizes Lost Channels best, feeding off Dekker’s soothing storytelling while providing a near-nautical sense of foreboding. Full-bodied yet hopelessly secretive, this fourth album doesn’t so much distance itself from Ongiara as reassure its direction. While I might’ve once considered them to be severely underwhelming, Great Lake Swimmers are polishing their own nature of folk – often numb, occasionally still – yet hypnotizing in its obscure focus.