Review Summary: pocket full of earth, ziploc bag of coffee grounds
Toronto folk quintet Great Lake Swimmers, somehow, sound genuinely authentic - organic, if you will. They don’t sound Torontonian at all, mind you, they sound like they belong in a barn outside of a Saskatoon berry farm; finishing their days work picking fruit to write music and reside in their bovine-friendly habitat. To overexert the seedy metaphor, Great Lake Swimmers sound like they’ve been grown
directly out of the prairie soil; rich in texture and so ecologically fresh sounding that they can only be described in silly farm metaphors. But, no. Great Lake Swimmers are
from Toronto - which, at the very least, explains why the great lakes have anything to do with them and why vocalist Tony Dekker can sing about “the world’s tallest self supporting tower, or maybe number two
” without sounding like he’s deliberately been studying Wikipedia’s page on Canadian Structures
. It just turns out that the best folk album of 2009 came from one of North America’s most expansive centres of urbanity. Perspective is a peculiar thing.
Opener ‘Palmistry’ is an early indicator of the band’s charm. Combining a fairly typical folk rock formula with Dekker’s impeccable memories, ‘Palmistry’ introduces Great Lake Swimmers at their most energetic (“energetic” being an ironic term in this case). Dekker’s americana (canadiana?) voice is well worn and classy, sounding experienced and broken at the same time through his raspy tones. ‘Pulling on the Line’ is a fairly repetitive offering on Lost Channels
, but in its catchiness, it also manages to be the strongest track on the album. Acoustic guitars, mandolins and tambourines accompany Dekker’s subtly layered vocals in the verses before the whole band shifts into halftime for the deliberately repetitive hook: “I’m just pulling on the line, on the line and sometimes it pulls on me.
” Lyrically, Lost Channels
is relatively standard and benign, but the sincerity of Dekker’s performance gives the words much more significance. In the appropriately subdued ‘Concrete Heart’, Dekker sings about the safety of home (“This was the centre of the world for me once, where I saw ‘I love you’ all over the place”
), sounding wrenchingly homesick while throwing in a few bitter Canadian in-jokes into the minimalist lyrics along the way. It’s this duality that makes Lost Channels
sound so “organic” - the earnest combination of charm and sincerity. The instrumentation and composition is sonically sound, the presentation is genuine, and the whole listen is a comforting folk excursion that lives up to its great lake namesake. Back to picking berries, boys. Or whatever it was that you did in that silly Ontarian city of yours.