Great Lake Swimmers
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2010, Volume 17, #1
Written by John Metzger
Fri January 15, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
Since issuing its self-titled debut in 2005, Great Lake Swimmers has been in a nearly constant state of motion. Initially, it seemed as if its founder Tony Dekker was content simply with conjuring the pastoral sadness of both Elliott Smith’s eponymous endeavor and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Yet, by the time the group assembled its third outing Ongiara, with its sweeping passages of folk-pop grandeur, it became clear that much more was at stake.
While Ongiara may have been the album that allowed Great Lake Swimmers to venture outside its Canadian homeland, Lost Channels is the one that significantly broadens its horizons by repositioning it for the future. There’s no mistaking it, though; the outfit still exists primarily as a vehicle for Dekker’s compositions. In fact, throughout Lost Channels, he is accompanied by special guests and hired hands as often as he is by longtime collaborators Erik Arnesen and Andy Magoffin. Nevertheless, for the first time since its formation seven years ago, Great Lake Swimmers sounds like the product of a full-fledged band rather than the fulfillment of a single man’s vision.
Dekker long has had a penchant for recording in unconventional locales. In the past, he has turned both an abandoned silo and an old church into makeshift studios. Following a similar pattern, he took Great Lake Swimmers to the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence Seaway, where he held the sessions for Lost Channels in a variety of places, including a historical arts center as well as a century-old castle. There have been moments when the ensemble’s music has been so understated and intimate that it seemed as if it might slip away into the night. Lost Channels, however, retains the intimacy for which the outfit is known, but perhaps because Great Lake Swimmers was more mobile during its creation, the endeavor explores a wider range of textures than most fans of the band are accustomed to hearing. The effort is richer, more open, and expansive, and it hardly feels like a portrait of solitude.
Right from the start, it’s obvious that Dekker took a different approach to Lost Channels. The arrangements are fuller and more complete, and on several tracks — most notably Palmistry and She Comes to Me in Dreams — Great Lake Swimmers evokes the early works of R.E.M. by enveloping Dekker’s voice within a swirling cauldron of jangly instrumentation. Yet, even when the songs grow quiet, they are filled with subtle shadings. Everything Is Moving So Fast conjures Neil Young with its ethereal weightlessness, while Stealing Tomorrow traipses through the haunting, country-tinged overtones of Whiskeytown. Elsewhere, Pulling on a Line creeps onto Brewer & Shipley’s terrain by wrapping its irresistible melody — which undoubtedly highlights Dekker’s finest gift — around an easy-going groove.
Dekker’s only glaring mistake was to tuck a bluegrass ramble (The Chorus in the Underground) into the middle of Lost Channels. The concept itself isn’t a bad one, but the tune nonetheless feels oddly out of place amidst the rest of the material on the endeavor. In the end, however, although Great Lake Swimmers might not yet be a top-tier outfit, Lost Channels proves that the group’s potential has never been greater nor has its future ever been brighter. ˝
Of Further Interest...
Lost Channels is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2010 The Music Box