Great Lake Swimmers Channel R.E.M. on "Lost Channels"

Mar. 30, 2009
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There's something disingenuous about the modern indie-folk scene, a movement dominated primarily by young city dwellers who grow (fashionable) beards, don (stylishly trim) flannel and hang out in the woods on the weekends (between touring cities). Their instrumentation says Americana, but their calculated, sometimes deliberately abstruse execution is coded to catch the ears of hipper, more educated audiences. Even the most gifted of the bunch are guilty of taking music designed for the masses and turning it into something elite and exclusive.

That's my take, at least. So bear in mind my prejudices against indie-folk-which I admit are grounded more in simple genre fatigue than deep-felt philosophical objections-when I offer a hearty endorsement of the new album from Great Lake Swimmers, a band as complicit as any of sanitizing backwoods music for the NPR crowd. It's hard to begrudge the Toronto band for being so good as what they do, though, especially given how deftly singer/songwriter Tony Dekker bends his notes for maximum beauty.

It also helps that the Lost Channels' A-side brightens the group's somber, rustic musings with a healthy dose of R.E.M.'s chipper jangle. Opener "Palmistry" imagines Neil Young sitting in on the Automatic for the People sessions, while future single "She Comes To Me In Dreams" rings like a forgotten highlight from the Dead Letter Office era. Dekker finds clever ways to conjure campfire intimacy without falling back on cheap twang. "Everything Is Moving So Fast" evokes not old sounds of AM radio but rather the druggy hymnals of Low (a band that's always captured the feel of life in a town too small for a major-league sports team every bit as vividly as the troubadours of yore). Even when its richer arrangements give way to more barren terrain as the album nears its finish line, Lost Channels finds pretty new ways to express timeworn sentiments. If the late century indie-folk explosion means a few more albums as enchanting as this one, then I guess I'm OK with that.

Pulling On A Line - Great Lake Swimmers


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