Album Review: A Forest of Arms by Great Lake Swimmers
Fairly Good, Based on 6 Critics
Exclaim - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Great Lake Swimmers have titled their sixth LP A Forest of Arms, and that moniker couldn't be more fitting. Much has been made of the band's recent recording in the Tyendinaga Caves for atmospheric reverb and distant echoes, and that's what they achieve on many of the LP's songs, especially early tracks like "Zero In The City," on which Tony Dekker's vocals boom audibly off of craggy, rocky walls. But the deep woods of northern BC are the true muse on this new album.
The soundscapes created by Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers are nothing if not panoramic. The band’s music is writ on a large canvass, epic and grand, yet always tied to the earth. So lush is their sound at times, it’s easy to forget that the primary lead instruments are acoustic: guitar, mandolin, banjo, and violin. Part of A Forest of Arms was recorded in a cave, Ontario’s Tyendinaga Cavern; Great Lake Swimmers are fond of recording in unusual locales.
While he writes lovely melodies and has a fine voice, Tony Dekker of the Great Lake Swimmers often sounds dour enough that one could imagine he'd like to hide in a cave for a while. And for the group's sixth studio album, 2015's A Forest of Arms, Dekker did just that; his vocals and acoustic guitars were recorded in Ontario's Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves, one of the oldest natural caverns in Canada, while the rest of the instruments were tracked in a variety of studios, performance venues, and resonant rooms in unlikely locales. While it's difficult to say how much impact Tyendinaga made on the final product, it certainly testifies to the group's willingness to experiment.
It’s been more than 10 years since Great Lake Swimmers released their self-titled debut. Recorded in an empty Ontario grain silo, it was mostly Tony Dekker’s acoustic guitar and honeyed voice singing about silent films and the natural world. The album seemed at first like an ideal sedative—its hushed reverberating folk songs are enhanced with the sound of actual crickets chirping.
Great Lake Swimmers singer-songwriter Tony Dekker has a profound passion for the environment. He’s a guest blogger for the World Wildlife Federation, wrote a song for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and was an early signatory of the Canadians for the Great Bear campaign. It’s fitting, then, that almost half his band’s sixth LP, A Forest of Arms, was recorded deep within Ontario’s Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves.
The sixth full album from Tony Dekker and crew is an ambitious affair that might set you back on your heels, if you’re at all familiar with the Canadian outfit. With past releases you pretty much knew what to expect from their music, a comfortable, rustically crafted, sparse, “Americana” sound, replete with banjo and fiddle, with Tony’s vocals floating as light as a oil-slick rainbow on water. They create a place where folk-rock meets country and bluegrass, and converge into a soothing, atmospheric lushness.