Music from the Other Canada – Hauntario by Wheatpool
Music from the Other Canada – post tattoo regrets down at the Wheatpool
By Douglas Heselgrave
by The Wheat Pool
It’s autumn, and as the days get shorter and the nights grow longer, there is an urge to put away summery things. The Grateful Dead, Bob Marley and Manu Chao have been stowed away into the basement until spring as the long shadows from outside encourage me to delve into more melancholy and darker hued music.
It was in this transitional mood that I first heard ‘Hauntario’, the disturbing second CD from Edmonton’s Wheat Pool, and despite my better judgment and overall desire to maintain an even keel, I keep playing it over and over gain from beginning to end. You’ve probably heard that old joke that beside the definition of ‘lonely’ in the Canadian Webster dictionary, there’s a photograph of Neil Young. Many worthy artists from the Cowboy Junkies to Sun Kil Moon have mined the same fractured emotional territory as Mr. Young, but until hearing ‘Hauntario’ there hasn’t been anyone who I’ve thought capable of usurping his place in that dictionary photo. And, while it’s still true that no one can conjure up the churning grungy blues like Neil, Wheat Pool’s muse seems to live eternally poised and crystallized in the emotion he so brilliantly captured with ‘once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar.’
Hauntario is a restless, hurting record full of the kind of cocaine jags and morning after regrets that put a person in a frame of mind to hit the road, fleeing with the last few vestiges of dignity and pride intact. None of the songs come from a healthy, happy place, and if they weren’t so brilliant and evocative, we’d all be much better off avoiding them altogether. But, there’s a kind of train wreck fascination in following the sludgy tangled momentum of each song as the crunching electric and acoustic guitars swirl around each other trying to find their own voice as the skies around them thicken.
It is sometimes hard to find a place to breathe while listening to the Wheat Pool build the intensity that’s crammed like canned heat into each song. Sheets of red hot pain leap out of the grooves of tracks like ‘My Right Arm’ as electric guitars seem to wail and beg ‘is there a place big enough to hold this kind of pain?’ As if in answer, the vast skies and endless horizons of the Canadian prairie are referred to again and again as being the only place that can dissipate such a huge hurt.
While such an oozing tsunami of northern misery may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s something hugely appealing about this record. Perhaps it’s the fact that – despite the incredibly inward nature of the lyrics and the melancholy suggestions of the music – the members of the Wheat Pool sound completely committed and unwavering while bravely holding to the course in each song.
If there is any criticism to be leveled at Wheat Pool’s efforts here, it has to be that occasionally a certain annoying Bono-ism creeps into the singer, Robb Angus’ phrasing. It’s the only time when the music they conjure up loses its natural momentum and power. When this happens as it does on ‘too far apart’ and ‘I’m not here’ the pure sorrow and real emotion they’ve immersed themselves in wavers and – in the same way that noticing yourself crying in the mirror changes the nature of the tears you shed – self-consciousness briefly intervenes to derail a song’s ascension. But, thankfully, most of the time the members of The Wheat Pool are bent so far down into their music, stirring the primordial soup that no reflection is possible.
Hauntario is a powerful record full of great fully realized songs, and to my mind yearning and hurting haven’t sounded this epic or strangely appealing in ages. If only I wasn’t so well adjusted, I could spend years jumping right in and swimming around in the pathos this record evokes.
Amazing, but not for the timid. Proceed with caution.
This article also appeared at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com