Album Reviews

Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels

(Nettwerk) UK release date: 6 April 2009

Canadian folk-pop really is in a rude state of health at the moment, and hot on the heels of the rather marvellous latest opus from Wood Pigeon comes this, Great Lake Swimmers’ fourth album.

The Swimmers are in effect Tony Drekker and friends, and they recorded Lost Channels in the evocatively named Thousand Islands, at the north east of Lake Ontario – the channel itself referring to a stretch where a British warship was lost over two hundred years ago.

Clearly the place had a lasting effect on the band, nowhere more so than Singer Castle, an imposing structure whose bells divide the album in two at its halfway point. They make a haunting sound, and their harsh tones are a striking contrast to the band’s more mellow sound, but they do disrupt the flow of Drekker’s intimate asides.

The Swimmers’ front man freely admits a current obsession with The Carter Family, and their inspiration creeps into the edges of these songs – the slide guitars dressing the fulsome She Comes To Me In Dreams for instance, a subtly uplifting and beautifully orchestrated song that finds room for the rounded sound of a kettle drum.

It’s here that the jewel in the Swimmers’ crown is revealed: their careful use of instrumentation that sets them a notch well above the average folk band, with songs offering a beautiful, slightly rough tone to the violin here, a rounded cello sound there – all the while complemented by intricately spun guitar lines.

Yet they remain careful not to overdo the orchestration, with songs like Stealing Tomorrow having a beautifully sparse feel to them that captures the scope of their recording location, the sotto voce vocals of Dekker drifting over a slide guitar. Similarly Pulling On A Line offers a more relaxed contentment.

Perhaps most gorgeous of all is Concrete Heart, unashamedly romantic and moving, Drekker’s singing coming close to Nick Drake as he duets with the cello. “This is the place where I felt like the world’s tallest self-supporting tower,” he sings, before a softly tempered piano descends from the heights. It’s like standing outside watching snow fall in the dark.

To listen to Lost Channels is to delight in the Canadian outdoors, something the listener can do even thousands of miles away, enjoying its vast beauty through the combination of Dekker’s hushed vocal and wide-open instrumentation. While it might be criticised for not having some of the mystery characterising previous albums, Lost Channels is a blissful yet haunting record.

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More on Great Lake Swimmers
Great Lake Swimmers + Sleeping States @ Jazz Cafe, London
Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels
Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara