Release Date: Apr 3, 2012
Record label: Nettwerk Productions
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Folk
GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS play the Music Hall June 2. See listing. Rating: NNNN Canadian folk-rockers Great Lake Swimmers are known for finding and incorporating creative locations into their recordings. But for their fifth album, they went the traditional route, hunkering down at Revolution Recording studio in Toronto with long-time producer Andy Magoffin.
It’s not often that a genre like country is directly compatible with the nebulous, know-it-when-you-hear-it concept of indie. It’s not often when country isn’t immediately brushed off with the rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth, either. Far safer to use the (now) near-meaningless descriptor folk if acoustic instruments are primarily involved and the influence of synthesizers is largely absent.
Since their formation in 2003, Toronto-based folk-rockers Great Lake Swimmers have made four full-length albums, none of which were recorded in an actual studio (opting instead for abandoned grain silos, churches, historic music venues and renovated castles). For their fifth LP, the band finally broke tradition. The result is an album that is altogether pleasant, but just doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself on the map from the rest in its genre.
Toronto folk artist Tony Dekker and his Great Lake Swimmers made a name for themselves recording songs laden with natural imagery in odd locations. Their previous album, 2009’s Lost Channels, was recorded on an archipelago of islands straddling the U.S.-Canadian border. But for their fifth album in just shy of a decade, Great Lake Swimmers finally settled into a studio, and the result is their most mature and polished LP to date.
If we search Great Lake Swimmers on Youtube, click the top result and scroll down to the highest rated comment, we find user ‘itoastyourpants’ making the pithy remark ‘Thank god for Indie Folk Especially considering folk is, by definition, kind of the opposite of indie, the genre could hardly fail to attract these awfully confused herberts, crying yesterdays and wiping snotty noses on mass-produced cardigans. Such is the transcendental nature of Indie Folk, for which we should thank the same lord almighty that gave us Travis, the rest of Ryan Adams’ career and bellwethers of insufferability Noah and the Whale, before slicing our genitals from the flesh and sallying forth into a dark and ignoble middle age. Of course this is all a bit harsh on poor old Great Lake Swimmers, a humble troupe of rousing do-gooders that recently made their mark on the mainstream, wafting in during a tender juncture of American Idol, and New Wild Everywhere sounds like a maturing band preparing their smooth sliding into the jacuzzi of adult contemporary.
Great Lake Swimmers has always been a band - or a vehicle for frontman Tony Dekkar’s songs - about atmosphere. The eponymous debut record from 2003 was recorded in an abandoned silo. Bodies and Minds, the follow-up, was recorded in a church, while the third record, Ongiara, was made in Aeolian Hall, a famous music venue in Ontario. Lost Channels, the band’s 2009 record, was culled from sessions in various locations, drawing different vibes from each.
Canada's Great Lake Swimmers may not engender the endless praise ascribed to critical darlings like Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver, but what the Toronto quintet lacks in dazzle, it more than makes up for with authenticity. New Wild Everywhere, the group's fifth full-length outing, offers up another solid, if predictable batch of warm, contemplative, country-folk pop that seamlessly blends the rootsy, sunset melancholy of Gram Parsons, the smoky, Adirondack sheen of Joe Pernice's Scud Mountain Boys and the earthy grace of the Cowboy Junkies. Understated, yet undeniably lush (the band chose to record in a proper studio, rather than employ their usual field recording method), stand-out cuts like the languid "Cornflower Blue" and "On the Water," and the rolling, Automatic for the People-era R.
The Ontario-born singer-songwriter Tony Dekker has always relied on natural forms as the foundations for the metaphors, conceits, and imagery he uses in the songs of Great Lake Swimmers. His lyrics evoke a mountain range as a lover's spine and a river's edge as a place of spiritual reckoning, subtly chronicling the epic geological changes that mirror immense human emotions. Mountains shift, rivers cut canyons, hearts yearn and break.
“I never gave you the best part of me,” Tony Dekker sings on “Think That You Might Be Wrong”, one of the dreamiest tracks from New Wild Everywhere, his Canadian ensemble’s fifth album. To the listener, this can be taken as a promise of good things to come. It’s been four years since Great Lake Swimmers released Lost Channels, an album widely praised for its level of polish and artistic maturity, and fans of Dekker’s soft vocals and evocative arrangements will find plenty to satisfy the anticipation they’ve harbored in that time.
I was going to start this review with a clever and witty rundown of other great bands that have “lake” in their names, Midlake, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, etc. There is also apparently a band just named “Lake,” which I would have had to listen a little to if I were going to write that review. But I’m not, because this album is too good to dally over, because it’s so good, jaw droppingly good, not a false note in the bunch kind of good.
The Canadians’ fifth set tweaks their established formula with splendid results. Daniel Ross 2012 The best joke on Canadian folk-rockers Great Lake Swimmers’ fifth album is that it sounds absolutely nothing like a New Wild Everywhere. Of course, jokes are fairly hard to come by on a record chocked with sleepy, lilting stomp-alongs like these, but fortunately the gaps are filled by warmth, quality and not a little fiddle-playing.