Great Lake Swimmers‘ 2005 song “Various Stages” felt like a poem I had yet to write. The best complex pop songs have a way of doing that — introducing themselves as your own future ideas or unremembered dreams. (cf. Radiohead, Yo La Tengo.)
On the band’s latest album, New Wild Everywhere, GLS leader Tony Dekker has decided to allow little room for reverb, no patience for lyrical obscurity. (Maybe he just doesn’t want to be Bon Iver.) The result isn’t as radical and head-scratching as when My Morning Jacket gave up reverb and decided they were Prince, but as in MMJ’s case, it sounds little like the same band.
If there are any touchstones for this new sound, they can probably be found in Josh Ritter, Lyle Lovett (vocally, that is, as Dekker adopts rounder intonations), and, less profitably, Poco. The title track has the unfortunate distinction of sounding like Poco as assayed by the Jayhawks, all while signaling that Dekker wants to recast his band in an uptempo country mode. To his credit, the title track and similar rockist ventures are hummable and (variably) hooky, indicating they could have a life on the charts — perhaps if interpreted by other artists.
GLS retains its fascination with strings, both chamber and Appalachian, dressing songs like “Quiet Your Mind” with cello and “Fields of Progeny” with banjo — but things are less ghostly, and as a result, less compelling. The obsession with landscapes (“Your Rocky Spine,” “Put There By the Land“) appears to have been minimized, in favor of interpersonal relationships (“Ballad of a Fisherman’s Wife,” “The Knife”).
The deluxe edition of New Wild Everywhere boasts eight bonus tracks, mostly acoustic versions of the twelve primary songs. These more minimalist tracks sound more authentic than their fully-orchestrated peers, as if the songs got spread too thin as they were parceled out among an ensemble. These incarnations reach for liveliness, but wind up drained of a certain vitality.