Monday, February 12, 2007

Reviews:: The Great Lake Swimmers Ongiara

The new Great Lake Swimmers record – Ongiara - exploded onto the blog-o-world the second it leaked. Instantly, reviewers made the inevitable comparisons to Sufjan and Sam Beam. Obviously, Tony Dekker’s vocal cadence and style is similar to Sufjan’s (and Will Oldham’s as well), and he does play the banjo, but I feel (as a Canadian music blogger) listening to the record once and settling for these jump off points is lazy (for the record, if I had to make a comparison, I’d rest on the striking similarities to Neil Young on tracks like There is a Light and Passenger Song).

It takes away from the things Tony did for this record. You shouldn’t overlook the increased instrumentation (including Owen Pallett’s string arrangements and the beautiful voice of Sarah Harmer on backing vocals) and bulked up arrangements, but comparing him to such familiar, well received sounds pushes listeners along that obsession for ideological resemblance. If something sounds good, we have to compare it to things commonly acknowledged as fantastic, which actually takes away from the greatness (and uniqueness) of both.

Instead, I want to judge this record on its own merits. Tony’s voice is becoming one of the most dominant on the Canadian scene. It’s emotional and warm, sincere and pure. Ongiara is rich in Canadian imagery and metaphors, and much like the sound itself, those images manage to be warm and vastly spacious at the same time. In the grand traditions of folk, Dekker, Arnesen, and Huebert invoke a 60’s mentality of giving back to and respecting the power of this great country we live in. Instead of protest, they give us messages of hope and peace (There is a Light). Instead of anger, they challenge us to "stop, listen, and feel.. believe… believe."

The more I listen to this record, the more I’m overcome with a sense of Canadian pride. You can’t help it. On Rocky Spine, Dekker unveils his love of this country, encapsulated in an enchanting melody. It may sound stupid, but the natural reverb and sounds of this record trigger images of the stoic scenery of our country flawlessly. The bursts of electric guitar that ring out on Put There by the Land remind me of the rocky outcrops in Northern Ontario, hidden until you take a trip on the TransCanada. The standup bass and echoing strings bring to mind a slow trek through the emptiness of the prairies.

It’s hard not to build up this record, but probably for different reasons than most. I like to think of this release as something unique; for our country. That’s why it’s so hard to compare it to works like Sufjan. Sufjan’s work, while beautiful, is filled with lush, intricate arrangements, completely indicative of the land he is portraying. The simpler, natural tone Dekker relies on is a perfect representation of the land he is singing about. Much like how the breath taking scenery of Canada needs to be seen to be appreciated, this record needs to be heard. Lumping it into a wash of other sounds isn’t fair.

Dekker’s song writing continues to grow. His sound, while distinctive, is never boring or repetitive. He stays true to his strengths, but manages to add subtle elements and textures to keep the record pushing forward. An echoing guitar solo bellows across a vast canyon on Changing Colors, the gradual build of There is a Light that halts so abruptly, the uptempo Stipe structure and drums of Part of a Large Family. More than anything, this record is a musical journey across this great land of ours. Although he asks the question, Where in the World Are You, it’s quite obvious where Tony’s heart lies.

There are no mp3s released from the band or the label (Nettwerk), and after the polite visit from the Web Sheriff after a Dinosaur Jr. mix up, we are going to wait on posting any.

Update:: I guess the band is ok with posting a track, so here you go.
MP3:: Your Rocky Spine

Great Lake Swimmers will grace Vancouver with two shows::
Apr 4th @ the Gallery (UBC)
Apr 5th @ Richard's on Richards

In other fantastic news, J Tillman and yerbird are giving us a new record – Cancer and Delirium. The first single, When I Light Your Darkened Door, is classic J. Dark, depressing, beautiful… you know the drill.

MP3:: When I Light Your Darkened Door
Stream two other new ones at his myspace as well.

Posted at 12:27 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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