The Canadian indie-rock band Great Lake Swimmers, whose most recent album, Ongiara, is as nature-inspired as the rest of their music, has recently come into acclaim, compared with such Canadian indie bands as the Weakerthans and Iron & Wine.
Great Lake Swimmers is composed of three core members - Tony Dekker (vocals, guitar), Colin Huebert (drums, other percussion) and Erik Arnesen (electric guitar and banjo) - but the trio is often complemented by Darcy Yates on upright bass and Julie Fader on keyboards and vocals, as well as special guests who have contributed to the band's flavor.
The group's self-titled debut album was recorded live in an old grain silo in southern Ontario, Canada. The natural echoes and acoustics of this location gave the Great Lake Swimmers a sound different to similar artists who record in studios. Their second album, Bodies and Minds, also recorded live, has a ghostly feel to it, made even more prominent by the fact that the group chose another unusual place for recording: a church.
Ongiara, however, is different. Critics have griped over the Great Lake Swimmers' hollow music and meaningless lyrics in the past, but Ongiara challenges such claims. A line from the track "Backstage with the Modern Dancers" for example, speaks of a deep loneliness and has a rich melody to match: "And out there on the wooden floors / the sweat from their pores / I'm writing a list of songs I can sing by myself."
"Your Rocky Spine," the first track on the album, also draws the listener in from the start. The opening line, "I was lost in the lakes and the shapes that your body makes," sets the scene for the entire song surrounding the Canadian landscape that Dekker seems to love so much. Arnesen's banjo also transforms the song into a pseudo-spiritual track, mixed with poetic lyrics full of double entendres.
One of the most compelling songs on Ongiara is "Changing Colours." The spiraling electric guitar riffs have blue grass and jazz influences that bring the melancholy of Dekker's voice to the forefront of the song. "When you change colors / I change mine too / try not to think / and I'll try too / and when you let go / I will let go too." These lyrics create a beautiful image of autumn leaves representing personal change. In Ongiara's final song "I Became Awake," the remarkably well-played electric guitar is reminiscent of Neil Young.
Great Lake Swimmers' sound is a perfect blend of folk and twangy electric riffs. Soft and intricate vocal patterns make Dekker's voice feel like a personal concert. The strange addition of the banjo brings a depth to their ethereal songs.
Ongiara is the perfect gateway album into the tranquil and mysterious world that the Great Lake Swimmers strive to create, for both listeners looking for an interesting experience lyrically and musically, as well as indie-seekers searching for an unusual sound.