Review Summary: Sounds for watching the countryside slowly pass by from your car window
I was raised in rural Southwestern Ontario. Inasmuch as your surroundings growing up influence the type of person you become, taking in the beautiful but occasionally melancholy rural ambience surely laid a few concrete blocks in my own personal foundation. The imagery lingers, generic as it might be: massive corn fields glowing amber at sunrise, thickets of woods, dead-end dirt roads. It felt ancient, with dilapidated barns, rusting agricultural machinery, and timeworn silos dotting the landscape, monuments to the lingering past (if you want to [poorly] wax philosophical). I moved to Toronto five years ago, and I don’t hate it, but damn do I miss
the space, the quiet, the antiquity. I miss just walking through the countryside with a nebulous but tangible feeling of muted reverence for my environment. I still, and probably always will, carry the clichéd notion of a slow, simple and reflexive “country life” close to my heart.
The fact that Bridge Music
, the debut album from Eerie Gaits (Wild Pink’s John Ross, featuring pedal-steel by Maxwell Dale Creagh Roll and an appearance from Steven Vallone on accordion) is probably my most listened to album of recent years might speak to the lasting influence my surroundings had as well. Their ambient folk/country sound primarily consists of multi-tracked acoustic guitars, ghostly pedal steel, and overcast synths, presented in sepia-tone lo-fi production. Dynamic and evocative, the wholly-instrumental music has a pastoral, cinematic quality that brings to mind summer sunsets with an unobstructed view, open fields, woods and rivers. I think I’m just predisposed to loving this album. It’s comforting.
Opener “Kingston-Rhinecliff” lays out the album’s ambitions within its first two minutes. An airy synth that recalls a distant train whistle ekes out before a finger-picked acoustic guitar winds through an emotional passage. Elegiac pedal-steel guitar floats in and handily asserts itself as a melodic centrepiece. Muted bass and rudimentary percussion join quietly, and Eerie Gaits’ inviting sound is now in full swing. Similarly-minded musicians might be tempted to hide undercooked or opaque songs behind the grainy production and stoic arrangements of Bridge Music
, but Eerie Gaits offer considered compositions with plain and deliberate emotional qualities. While the album can function as pleasant, monochromatic background music, it rewards closer listening: the trepidatious finger-picked guitars on “For Theresa” are sad and achingly pretty, and the purely joyous “Camden, ME” ascends toward a triumphant pedal-steel climax. The distinct emotions in the songwriting help Eerie Gaits achieve surprising mileage out of their minimal sound.
The songs confidently weave through multiple sections, with instruments tastefully added and taken away to keep the relatively small musical palette from growing stale. “Twins” recalls the heartland-indie rock of Ross’ main band with its opulent verses and quasi-emo guitar parts. The languid “Eau Galle” dips out halfway through, and a bass enters, acting as a lead instrument in the cheerful final minutes. Penultimate track “Lore” provides a five minute ambient synth respite from the guitars, with swelling pads and chilling harmonics moving ominously like a fog hovering just above ground level, then finale “Washington, D.C. (And Virginia Suburbs)” brings everything down to a close with joyful unaccompanied acoustic guitars, reaffirming the charming simplicity and quaint optimism of the project as a whole. The guitar lines are splendid throughout the album, and Roll’s pedal-steel work is especially captivating. There are hardly any weak moments —although the coda to “Kingston-Rhinecliff” has a certain dissonance compared with the rest of the song. It’s hardly an issue, but it’s simply just not as pretty as the rest of the album.
Yeah, okay. So what? Bland descriptors like “comforting” and “pretty” tend to come up when I talk about Eerie Gaits, which could lend an air of mediocrity to the project. Solid if relatively basic compositions, minimal acoustic arrangements, and no vocals whatsoever during its brief 30 minutes; I could entertain an argument that Bridge Music
doesn’t do anything particularly new or interesting. Yet the album resonates with its own qualities: with its heart-on-sleeve emotions and the tangible passion behind the performances, with the subtle room noises that invite you into their space, with the surefooted devotion to exploring a very specific musical atmosphere.
You get the feeling Eerie Gaits nailed exactly what they were going for, their naturalistic style economically and ardently explored in a near-perfect 30-minute run-time. Bridge Music
is warm and intimate, like friends having a jam session in a sun-filled living room, a Tascam tape recorder happening to take it all in. The songs are continuously rich and compelling, and the yearning ambience lends a bittersweet lost-in-time feeling to the record. It’s a wonderful album, small in scale but hugely rewarding. It sounds like its cover. It sounds like home.