Tuesday, September 1, 2009
It's no secret that sometimes music is the only thing that helps you get through real loss. I’m not talking about a broken heart or a bad day, no, I'm talking about those moments that are unforgiving and unrelenting and leave an emptiness that wakes you up in the middle of the night with nothing to hold onto but an overwhelming feeling of alienation and pain. You start to realize you can't move on, because what you had is gone... forever.
A broken heart goes on beating but the wounds left by the earth shattering inevitable are a lot harder to forget. Considering that pain, it seems fairly natural that when Provincial Parks Will Whitwham’s mother passed away, his brand of summer indie pop wasn't going to be the outlet for the emotions coursing through his veins.
I know right now most people are thinking, "Great. Another acoustic record from an indie guy we are supposed to care about," but Wilderness of Manitoba is something much bigger than one man's journey. Will hooked up with some other local musicians and the quartet (now a quintet) started writing lo-fi folk tracks that hide in the corners and empty space usually reserved for ghosts and shadows. The resulting EP - Hymns of Love and Spirits - is stark and powerful - the muted banjo picks and ominous cello work set the tone for the incredibly personal subject matter - but the journey is warmed with spot on, effortlessly controlled four piece harmonies.
The band really channels folk acts of the 60’s, which is fitting as the focal point of the EP are the two versions of a track written by Will’s mom in 1968. She gave him a recording of Evening on his birthday and the band reworked it for the EP in tribute (and included the original). The original is a lovely piece of chilly folk that focuses on her lovely voice, subtle harmonies and instrumentation and the band makes the smart decision to stay true to the original. They clean up the guitar sound and add some banjo, but really let the male/female vocals take center stage. Similar vocal interplay could be found on countless, classic folk recordings (Peter, Paul and Mary is probably the easiest jumping off point) , but more importantly it gives insight into the talent of these young singers.
With all the vocal folk acts catching praise these days, I love how Wilderness of Manitoba refuses to beef up the sound or move away from the comfort of a walking pace. Obviously I don’t know the band, but I’d guess these songs are something more meaningful than just another "sounds like" collection of picked riffs and that's even when delightful songs like Manitoba, Crows Feet and Bluebird float by, it's only when you really sit down with the songs that you feel the impact of a group of young musicians working through life's hardest hands.