Great Lake Swimmers
By Alexandra Edwards
amongst the St. Lawrence River, there exists an archipelago known as the 1000
Islands. The islands (numbering 1,793, to be precise) straddle the border
between Canada and the U.S. They're dotted with castles and picturesque houses;
some sit on chunks of land rising only far enough out of the water to
accommodate the structure itself. Images from the area are oddly poetic:
foliage and mist obscuring stone chateaus topped by colorful roofs. There is a
sense of haunting, of living among mysteries.
Canada's Great Lake
Swimmers not only used the imagery of the 1000 Islands as inspiration for their
fifth album, Lost Channels — the band's liner notes direct listeners to
but also recorded parts of the album in those stone castles. The result is an
affecting collection of songs, straddling the line between Canadian and American
Vocally, lead singer Tony Dekker exists somewhere at the
center of a triangulation of Iron & Wine's Sam Beam, Loney Dear's Emil
Svanängen, and that dude from Christian college rock band Jars of Clay. It's a
good voice, but it can cause moments of cognitive dissonance. This is not, for
example, the kind of voice that should be singing on "The Chorus in the
Underground," the band's take a country two-step. That gentle breathy
meditation of a voice just really doesn't fit with the banjo-picking and the
But Dekker's voice works more often than not. It's
especially well-placed on "Stealing Tomorrow," one of the album's more
meditative songs. It doesn't draw attention from all the other pieces at work —
the quiet pedal steel and bass, the sadly beautiful phrasing.
guileless lyric similes take the place of any flowery extended metaphors. Most
of the time, this songwriting technique works; it's a refreshing difference from
other folky singer-songwriter acts. On "Concrete Heart," Dekker sings, "This is
the place where I felt like the world's tallest self-supporting tower, at least
for a little while anyway," and it makes sense. The words themselves are
emotionally affecting, no less so for being straightforward. The approach
doesn't always produce these results, though. "Everything is Moving So Fast,"
for example, turns the title into an insipid, New Age-y chorus ("Everything is
moving so fast, I am unlimited").
The strongest tracks utilize a fuller
band sound than most folk artists, each element combining to make the songs
sound bigger, more expansive. Album opener "Palmistry" is a good example of
this, with its organ and drums rounding out the guitars. So is "Pulling a
Line," which combines familiar melodies (you'll swear you know the chorus from
another song) with some of the band's best imagery ("The line, it writes itself
across the dark sky, in the electric flashes ending with a sigh").
are a few missteps here, but in the end, the effect is a lovely sense of calm. Great Lake Swimmers have given us an album rich in acoustic warmth, for this
oddly chilly spring.
Great Lake Swimmers play The EARL with Kate Maki on April 10. Buy tickets here.