The Canadians’ fifth set tweaks their established formula with splendid results.
Daniel Ross 2012
The best joke on Canadian folk-rockers Great Lake Swimmers’ fifth album is that it sounds absolutely nothing like a New Wild Everywhere. Of course, jokes are fairly hard to come by on a record chocked with sleepy, lilting stomp-alongs like these, but fortunately the gaps are filled by warmth, quality and not a little fiddle-playing. Songs that contain enough of these things (even the fiddle-playing... especially the fiddle-playing) do not need to innovate – they need merely to be gorgeous and rewarding, and close to everything on New Wild Everywhere is perfectly that.
Though they’re often compared to the more sugary side of Will Oldham, it’s actually a deeper-fried Americana that Great Lake Swimmers are more closely aligned with. The much-missed rootin’-tootin’ country rockers The Anomoanon (led by Will Oldham’s brother Ned) and the equally fondly regarded The Butterflies of Love can easily be imagined hammering along to Ballad of a Fisherman’s Wife, all sharing an gentle, carefree abandon. Elsewhere, more seriously, the slowly circling Think That You Might Be Wrong gently coagulates into a glorious sort of melodic gloop, a worthy soundtrack to the harshest relationship breakdown.
On the Water is not dissimilar from Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues in both contemplative lyric and melodic shape, but GLS mainman Tony Dekker has learned tricks Robin Pecknold has yet to even attempt. Making a virtue of simplicity, Dekker becomes a man swimming for his life in slow motion, eventually drifting aimlessly. No attempt to be transformative or adventurous with the tenets of his influences is made, the result being an expression that’s totally without chinks. Neatly, that seems to be something that chimes across the whole of New Wild Everywhere.
Even a version of the band’s own Fields of Progeny sung in French (the lovely Les Champs de Progeniture) cannot hinder the album at its conclusion. Indeed, rather than adding even more ammunition to the idea that the Great Lake Swimmers’ appeal is singular, it’s proof that they’re able to make their music ceaselessly repeatable, open to gentle tweaking and subtle extension. Leaving the invention to others is the smartest thing they could do – sometimes it’s enough just to be good at what you do.