Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: Great Lake Swimmers - Lost Channels (* * * *)

I've often wondered how albums titled with specific locations are affected by their namesakes, but the connection on the latest from Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels, seems fairly obvious. Even looking at pictures of the Thousand Island area in which the Lost Channel is located and where much of the album was recorded, you get the feeling that the music somehow belongs there. The band's rootsy folk style is organic and charming, led by frontman Tony Dekker's pleasant voice and descriptive narratives. Great Lake Swimmers' fourth record is a remarkable set of folk tunes that expands on the sound of their last effort, 2007's Ongiara.

While Great Lake Swimmers don't branch out much stylistically on Lost Channels, the sound is bigger, warmer, and more produced this time around, which works as one of the record's strengths much of the time. The first single, "Pulling On a Line," is a good indication of what you're likely to find here, simple chord progressions, introspective lyrics, and an incredible sense of melody and harmony. Much of the record is comprised of similarly paced tunes like the flowing opener "Palmistry," the banjo-heavy "The Chorus In the Underground," and the earnest "Still." The band ably fill Dekker's songs with layers of earthy instruments that provide a solid platform for his light, smokey vocals.

Though the upbeat tunes are consistently enjoyable, the majority of the variation is found on the mellower cuts on the record, which also contain some highlights. "Everything Is Moving So Fast," with some haunting vocal harmony and delicate electric guitars, has a spacey, ethereal quality to it, while standout "Stealing Tomorrow" floats gracefully on sparse guitar under the reverbed vocals, allowing the heartbreak to really sink in. The bittersweet closer, "Unison Falling Into Harmony," showcases Dekker's lyrical ability, mixing specific details with relatable ideas in a thoroughly captivating way that makes his music a cut above the horde of new-folk songwriters.

What really works to the band's advantage on Lost Channels is, first, the consistency of the songs, and second, the pacing of the record. The blend of mournful ballads and upbeat acoustic anthems is well-distributed across the twelve tracks, never slowing to a crawl, but creating enough variation that the album avoids becoming simply a bland set of mid-tempo ballads. Lost Channels may be the band's best collection of tunes, a thoroughly impressive folk record that sticks to the group's strengths and builds upon them.


T.O. Snob said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

I actually had the chance to interview Tony Dekker about the new album. It's here if you're interested: