Reviews:: The Mohawk Lodge Wildfires

I opened the new Mohawk Lodge record with what can only be described as anticipation. The last record - Rare Birds - was a great collection of rough, country/folk campfire tracks from Ryder Havdale (supplemented by his talented friends). The aptly titled new record, Wildfires, according to Ryder is "more party than campfire". After a few listens, I'd say it's the type of backyard party where people get a little out of hand, shit gets broken or lit on fire, and you wake up in the morning with a splitting headache and wonder why you are sleeping outside.

The record starts with Hard Times, a catchy, front porch track that bounces along nicely, but the first thing that hits you is the fullness of the mix. The most obvious changes are Ryder abandoning his worn acoustic for an electric and that the collective (featuring local stalwarts Dan Boeckner, Marc Morrisette, JP Carter, Tiffani Mohammed and lots more) drifted into a more blue collar rock n' roll sound. Fans shouldn't be scared, because the sincerity of the song makes you realize there is nothing different about Ryder, he's just interested in changing how he gets his thoughts across. The lead single, Wear 'Em Out (featuring Dan Boeckner on vocals) adds a poppy keyboard riff at the 2:50 mark that is infectious, and completely unexpected.

He still writes beautiful, slow songs - like Timber, Calm Down and Why Would You? - but he sounds more like the Boss than (Prince) Bonnie. More Constantines than Hayden. The supporting players add vocals, notes and noodles that makes this seem like a more polished release. It's all within reason, as the songs still have heart and fit together like a homemade table instead of the normal IKEA mass produced items that are all to common in the new wave and blog-rave Indie world. But as the subtle horns on Timber compliment Ryder's vocals and the guitar and drums fight for whatever space they can find, you get to appreciate another side of his songwriting. Calm Down uses a choral affect to solidify the mix, and the result is a sound that oozes Vancouver, oozes Canada.

The same can be said about the road trip stomper that ends the record - Rising Sun. It's a six-minute epic where Ryder recants a journey across this country of ours and it's probably more symbolic than intended. The verses and long guitar bridges represent the long spaces between cities and the time where you simply reflect, listen to the AM radio and watch the odometer turn.

But without question, the tone of the band has shifted and I like the transition. Mohawk Lodge always pushed the sound limits of using an acoustic, and Ryder's switch to an electric guitar let's the collective add the feedback and riffage they always pushed for when they got on stage. Heart of Lovers is a frantic riff with hand claps and distortion and I'm not sure any fan of crunched rock could not like the song. Ryder sings with such immediacy that the energy skyrockets, and as he screams out the song's finale you can just picture this being a show closer, where fans leave sweat-soaked and smiling.

This record isn't going to change your life, but the beauty is Ryder and his friends don't want it to. It's a record that makes you want to scream along with a band you love over a few pints. Nothing more and nothing less.

Luckily, we can all do that on Aug. 9th @ the Anza club here in Vancouver.

MP3:: Wear 'em Out (ft. Dan Boeckner)
MP3:: Traitors and Knives - Rare Birds

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