Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Song For The Angels

More than any other band I can think of, the sound of Great Lake Swimmers is defined by their environment. Their self-titled debut was recorded in an abandoned grain silo and the music reflected that rural setting (though the crickets that open the record certainly helped the vibe) and the follow-up, Bodies And Minds, could be said to have a more spiritual flavour to it though equally austere, having been recorded in a church on the shores of Lake Erie.

The new record, Ongiara, is the band’s cleanest and most sonically impressive record to date, thanks in no small part to the environs of its origin – the Aeolian Hall concert hall in London, Ontario. While it doesn’t have the same enveloping reverb as the first two records, it makes up for it in how perfectly Tony Dekker’s voice and guitar are captured as well as the rich production and arrangements, markedly fuller than on past albums.

But for all the talk of the sonics, the real strength of Great Lake Swimmers has always been and remains the songs. Three records in, Dekker’s compositions haven’t changed that much – and that’s far less a comment about lack of growth than the fact that his songwriting was remarkable from day one and still is. And I hope that my interest in the evolution of the musical accompaniment to his songs doesn’t make it sound like I’m taking that for granted, because I’m not. Dekker has, over the past year as I’ve delved into his works, become one of my favourite current songwriters, local or otherwise. But if distinctions have to be made, I’d say that the songs on Onigara are more animated and outward-looking, with dashes of soft colours appearing in the sepia-toned beauty.

And to return to the theme of environments, it was an inspired decision to hold the band’s hometown CD release shows at the Church Of The Redeemer. I’ve seen a number of musical performances in a few of the churches on Bloor St, but this was my first at this particular house of worship and I think it sounded far and away the best. Sidebar – I was originally going to the late show and thought I had switched to the early show but as it turns out, I still ended up at the 9:00 performance (it’s a long story and not interesting at all). For these shows, the band elected to not have opening acts, instead they played an extended set with a lineup augmented by some stellar talent – Basia Bulat on backing vocals, pedal steel guitarist extraordinaire Bob Egan (formerly of Wilco and currently of Blue Rodeo), Owen Pallet on violin and Andy Magoffin who produced Ongiara, was doing sound and did such a marvelous job he deserves a mention.

Dressed in a beige, Cosby-approved sweater, Dekker led his band through material from all three records (and an encore cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears” that I would LOVE to get a recording of) and everything sounded stunning. Everything. The performances were note-perfect, the mix perfectly balanced and the church acoustics everything you’d hope they’d be. It would be possible to go on at length (even moreso) about how good it sounded, so let’s just say it sounded better than you could possibly imagine. And though he was as soft-spoken as always, Dekker’s understated charisma was just as amplified by the setting – with the church full of friends, fans and well-wishers, it really did have the intimate vibe of being part of a large family. I’ve always felt that Great Lake Swimmers didn’t get nearly the attention and respect that other, more extroverted Toronto acts did and undeservedly so. The two sold out shows on Saturday night may well be evidence that that’s no longer the case and for that, I say it’s about time.

Or perhaps not – I can’t help noticing that besides the CBC truck out front recording the show, none of the city’s newspapers or media outlets appeared to be in attendance. For shame. For The Records has a review of the early show which sounds an awful lot like the late one, right down to the anecdotes.

Photos: Great Lake Swimmers @ Church Of The Redeemer – April 14, 2007
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Your Rocky Spine”
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “I Am A Part Of A Large Family”
Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Back Stage With The Modern Dancers” (YouTube)
eCard: Great Lake Swimmers / Ongiara
MySpace: Great Lake Swimmers

Tickets for The Postmarks’ show at the Amp’d Mobile Studio this Saturday night are now available and like all shows at this new venue/studio/marketing tool, they’re free. I find The Postmarks’ breezy lounge-pop to dwell on the enjoyable side of innocuous and am going as much to check out the setup of the room as much as anything else. Check out some media below and if you like it, go get some free tickets. Did I mention they’re free? The Miami New Times talks to Postmarks singer Tim Yehezkely who, despite the name, is very much a girl. Oh, and I missed out on the cover they made available of Ministry’s “(Everyday Is) Hallowe’en” late last year. Can anyone shoot me an mp3? Thanks.

MP3: The Postmarks – “Goodbye”
Video: The Postmarks – “Goodbye” (YouTube)
MySpace: The Postmarks

Back in February I posted as MP3 Of The Week a cover of Grizzly Bear’s “Knife” by local boys Born Ruffians, recorded during a radio session for KEXP. Well prior to starting work on their full-length debut, they gave the cover another shot in a proper studio and let Four Tet mix it. Give both versions a listen below to compare and contrast – I still sort of like the radio session one better. Sounds breezier.

MP3: Born Ruffians – “Knife”
MP3: Born Ruffians – “Knife” (@ KEXP)

CBC Radio 3 has an audio interview with Land Of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell. PopMatters loves Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, you should too.

La Blogotheque continues their winning streak of Take-Away Shows with a session with The Shins, recorded on the streets of Paris. Wonderful. The OC Register has an interview with frontman James Mercer.

Chart talks to Maria Taylor about being on tour and working with Conor Oberst.

By : Frank Yang at 8:33 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. marco says:

    Agreed, everything was perfect at GLS… except for the buzzing speakers!

  2. Sera says:

    I’m going to have to speak out about the speaker buzz as well at the GLS show, I found it somewhat distracting. The show itself was perfect in every other way!

  3. Frank says:

    you were at the early show? Because i certainly didn’t hear any speaker buzz at the late show.

  4. marco says:

    The late show, and it was pretty loud actually. Easy to forget about once the singing started, as his voice is that of an angel.

  5. Sera says:

    I was at the early show… about 6 rows, centre, stage left. After the show it was the only flaw my friend and I discussed, the rest was about the beautiful venue, performances, songs, etc…

  6. Frank says:

    strange, I usually notice – and fixate – on stuff like that. Guess I was lucky to not have heard it!

  7. dave c says:

    for the early show i was right side, 3 rows back and dont recall hearing it. and for the late show i was centre aisle at the two steps down and again, dont remember it. though, my ears were probably still recovering from vietnam and the black angels.

  8. marco says:

    Dave, I was the guy sitting next to you, asking you about your recording! I was going to lean over and ask you if you were going to filter out the buzz from your recording and how you’d do it. If you are not or are not sure how, lets talk because I’ve been thinking about methods.

  9. Tug says:

    Man, thanks for mentioning that the Born Ruffians cover is a studio version and not the old live version. I’ve read about it on every darn site today and was making myself crazy going, ‘Wait. That already exists. I already have that. Why is everyone flipping out about it months later?’ Thanks for saving my sanity.