Ketch Harbour Wolves, Anachronisms

Ketch Harbour Wolves, Anachronisms

For my money, the true talent of Ketch Harbour Wolves lies in the way the band’s able to ride a fine, fine line between swooning, majestic, synth-tinged, Britpop-influenced romanticism and rough-hewn, rural-sounding, half-jangly rootsy indie-rock, evoking both at once and making it sound perfectly, awesomely natural. There’re only a handful of bands out there that can really pull off the trick — Band of Horses comes to mind — but the Wolves severely up the ante on Anachronisms, not so much riding that line as blurring it out completely.

The Toronto quintet kicks things off on a surprisingly spacerock-ish note with “Translation,” its Stills-esque guitars chiming and soaring and seemingly locked-down drums rumbling under the surface while frontman Jonathan Tyrell’s voice lays down a somber, Leonard Cohen-like gravitas over the whole thing. “Body Without Organs” shifts gears a bit, however, grabbing hold of a subtle Death Cab For Cutie groove and marrying it to a bright-yet-melancholy dream-story and disembodied whoa-oh-oh-oh backing vocals, effectively taking that whole Pacific Northwest sound and dragging it eastward to the wilds of Nova Scotia.

“August 12” tries to trip you up a bit, beginning delicate and atmospheric but quickly ramping up into what sounds like it easily could be an Arcade Fire outtake, albeit with more impassioned, almost strident vocals — when Tyrell declares, “I don’t plan to remember this,” it damn well sounds like he means it. From there the album drifts between the more subdued, thoughtful, keys-heavy romanticism of tracks like “Anachronisms” or “House of Thieves,” both of which wear their Brit influences on their sleeve, Interpol-style, and the more raw, fiery stuff like the chorus of “Bonfire of the Vanities” or “Black Skies Around You,” the latter of which steadily climbs to Arcade Fire-like heights.

As a whole, Anachronisms feels less like an album recorded by a bunch of musicians and more like a subtly-unfolding puzzle painstakingly assembled by a crew of master craftsmen. On each listen, the meticulously-arranged songs shift in unexpected ways, revealing new pieces of the whole and making me sit up and scratch my head all over again.

Take “Photograph,” for example; the first time I listened to the album, it made no real impression whatsoever (in fact, neither did the bulk of the album’s second half). After several more listens, however, I find myself eagerly waiting for the crystalline, beautiful chorus to come gently gliding in, painting a warm, sun-kissed picture of some kind of unexpected brush with the divine. The guitars chime brilliantly off in the distance, and Tyrell’s voice sounds amazed and serene at the same time.

There’s a heavy ’80s influence here, believe it or not, a love of those big, epic choruses and huge drums echoing off the walls of some gigantic arena somewhere — see the über-dramatic “Damascus” for proof, or the bouncy, yearning sweetness of “House of Thieves” — but while it may initially throw the listener off a bit, even then Ketch Harbour Wolves somehow manage to pull it off. At points Anachronisms is also reminiscent of Primitive Radio Gods’ (insanely underrated) White Hot Peach, in that both albums are low-key and claim no specific genre as their own but instead focus on making the songs as sneakily, beautifully engaging as possible.

And to their credit, that’s exactly what Ketch Harbour Wolves have succeeded in doing here; they’ve created an album of jaw-droppingly great, timeless-yet-understated songs, the kind you look at years down the line and think, “Oh, yeah — that was an awesome track. I need to hear that again…”

(Dead Calm Records; Ketch Harbour Wolves --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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