Here in the prairies, winter fades but is never gone. Snow clouds hang dark and low over these songs, plump and bruised. Even as the summer breaks hot and dry, Oliver Thiessen does not so much look away from the last winter as lament the coming of the next one. The discordant musings of “Winter Hymn” set the tone for a carefully layered record, the parts expertly planned and aligned. A dark reverberation seeps between the cracks in the song, an eerie floor for Thiessen’s voice to tread across. This is bedroom folk of the utmost quality, insinuating a loneliness compounded by the the isolation of the spacious Alberta snows.
There’s something happening in Welland, Ontario, some fountain of youthful talent, diverse and realized. This is frustrated rock and roll, captured straight to tape in a farm close to Niagara Falls: the raw guitar roaring under barely pronounced vocals. There is a resigned anger here, expansive observations of a small town and its dead-end satisfactions. But there is also a vastness to the sound, an outward reaching mobility to the lyrics that suggest an effort to expand. There is a fine line to the lament of “Chariot Drivers.” A close knowledge of the back roads of your home is only a bad thing when they act as prison bars. The intimacy that traps you is the same thing that makes a place familiar, defines it as your home. This is a record that shakes with agitation and grit, walks the line between staying and leaving.
If you aren’t interested in the snow melting around you, the inescapable sun, trees sprouting green leaves, or long legs coming out after months hidden away – if that summer feeling hasn’t had any effect on you, then Her Harbour’s newest album, Winter’s Ghosts, is perfect for you. Her Harbour, the musical musings of Gaberielle Gaguere, combines talent and emotion in the most exquisite way possible, creating music that will haunt any listener with memories of past winters and their cold and lonely nights.
Winter’s Ghosts draws its uniqueness from the skill and diversity in Gaguere’s voice. ”Deloria” relies on Gaguere’s ability to produce a jazzy complexity. She contrasts this with the simplicity of “Petunia,” where Gaguere proves capable of melodious harmonies. While the masterful “Carolina” relies on few words, Gaguere still manages to seduce listeners through the sounds her voice can produce. In an album where the themes are frozen into the harshest winters, Gaguere is bird flying south, ready to let loose her summer song. Winter’s Ghosts seems like a enormous emotional risk for Gaguere, and you’ll be drawn in by Her Harbour’s ability to find beauty in the coldest of memories.
There are some musicians who fear a world of beyond a simple six-string guitar, and on the other hand, there are some musicians who are seduced by the idea of full bands and the subsequent space filling sounds. But there are some some musicians who find the unique balance in between – relying on creative methods to create a simple space filling sound.
Ollie North is one of these musicians. His newest recording, Bringer EP, is a complex and captivating mosaic of sound. The title track, “Bringer”, drones over short riffs and clever vocals. The final track, “Nearerness” builds itself up through an emotion exploration of loops and words. North is a true master of layering simple sounds and creating an addictive harmony out of a cacophony of creativity — his short EP is sure to leave his sound echoing in your mind in away you can’t articulate outside of your own imagination.
There is a quality to Joel McNichol’s hushed voice that draws you in, provides a measure of intimacy. The crackle of a fire would convince me that he recorded out of doors. I feel crowded around the flames, a final drink in my hand, listening.
Whiskey-warm guitar tones are a wool blanket, a further comfort for these calming songs. The country sensibility of McNichol’s vocals rests over well-realized chords. His playing is not complex, but the chords are fully developed, played with a great conviction. I’m reminded of the hypnotically bare folk of early J. Tillman, the captivating depth of his chords. Country is a genre rooted in tradition and execution: there is so much to hear in the honest simplicity of these songs. I hope these demos are the indicator of a continuing direction: they could be the backbone of a great, great record.
A lovely track by Hazelton, sprung from that bustling fountain of youth — Momma Jack Recordings, steadily releasing a significant body of work right in my own backyard.
A bubbling brook of voices buoys a call to that long river. Hazelton is a small place, a destination along the Skeena for prospectors: a stopping place for a migrating population. But there is an assured quality to the song that implies settlement; the song does not seek calm, it is imbued with it. There is a great confidence in the loose and full harmonies, the mess of vocals that accompanies our singer, sweeps you up in their current. I don’t think that you can be lonely when you are listening to this song.
Until now, I’ve admired the work of Raven Shields from afar — she is a vocal force behind Dear Sister, the perfect supplement to Graham Nicholas. But it is a crime to relegate her, contextualize her based on her work with others. She is a forceful songwriter, a voice at once western and soulful — sometimes contained, sometimes roaring with a Neil Young tempo, Canadian through and through. There is a stark contrast between the solitude of “Old Pine” and the urgent rise and fall of “Take Me Home,” but neither is out of place. The same vast unity finds its way into the lush and wild imagery of “Badlands,” crisscrossing the country’s terrain. Canada is a diverse tapestry. Raven Shields is sewing the pieces together, a defining voice of Canadiana.