The ghost of Will Oldham hangs over a lot of the so-called ‘alt-country’ surfacing these days. Nowhere is this more true than for Toronto’s The Silt, a band that has been gaining some major recognition on the alternative circuit of late.
Oldham is one of those hit-or-miss artists with many people, and chances are The Silt will have the same effect. The lead vocals of Ryan Driver will alienate many, with his cracked, wavering voice bordering on the unlistenable at times (the title track and Taking A Walk spring to mind).
Quibbles aside, there is much to admire on Cat’s Peak. The adventurous, experimental approach to music that first got The Silt noticed on the Canadian underground scene is all over the album.
To that effect, the album opens with the surprisingly funky Come Back To The Willow. A rumbling bass and wah-wah guitar is the last thing you were expecting to hear from The Silt, but the track works, not least because Driver nails a warm, soulful vocal.
The next track No Twig is more in keeping with the overall vibe of the album. The band hit a countryish groove that sounds alarmingly like Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy‘s One With The Birds. It also marks the first instance of Driver’s alarmingly out-of-tune vocals. Now, this might fit in with the down-home on the porch shtick that resonates throughout the album, but really Driver is excruciatingly painful to listen to at times.
The dappled glory of Feathershine is one of the album’s high points, with some beautiful guitar playing and a shimmering rhythm track. Then the band get all experimental on our arses on the title track, ruining a perfectly lovely ballad by attempting to shake things up just a little bit too much.
That is the problem with Cat’s Peak. For every track like Two Eyes and Beautiful Shell, beautiful country acoustic numbers both, there is a Taking A Walk or a Twilight In The Morning, which border on atonal jazz for all their accessibility.
The album also scores with its rare forays into rock territory, notably on the Neil Young aping Sunlit Cloud. Bursting with primitive guitars and a driving rhythm section, the listener is left wishing the band had attempted more of the same.
The album closes on a positive note with a trio of fine songs. The spartan Lit features one of Driver’s more affecting vocal performances, while Ears In The Morning and the untitled closing track are two lovely ol’time folk ballads.
Cat’s Peak is an album to grow into over time, a fact that fans of Oldham will appreciate. The mournful, twilit atmosphere is best experienced after dark, with a glass in one hand and a tear-stained letter in the other.