Record Review: The Falcon Lake Incident — Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans
Along with the hoariest of rock critic cliches — “legendary blues giant,” “wild man drummer” and “splitting over musical differences” — let’s also include “getting it together in the country.”
Think of Traffic circa Mr. Fantasy or Led Zeppelin III — there’s something romantic about the idea of tinnitus-afflicted rockers abandoning the van, the graffiti-bedabbled dressing rooms and seamy Motel 6’s to make music in primitive rural environs. Kind of like Gilligan’s Island, only instead of the Professor, bring along a recording engineer; the environment will presumably provide vibes that are mellow and a focus impossible to achieve in workaday locales.
Falcon Lake is a relatively unspoiled Canadian summer vacation area near the border of Manitoba and Ontario. The former province is home to Winnipeg’s Weakerthans; the latter is where Ottawa’s Jim Bryson hangs his hat. It was there that the two acts — both beloved by respective cult audiences, both stubbornly focused on commercial and creative independence — converged in the dead of last winter to create The Falcon Lake Incident (out Oct. 19 via MapleMusic and available at Kelp Records).
Perhaps it was the natural splendor surrounding them that inspired the resulting music. Or perhaps it was the fact that the -30 celsius temperatures not uncommon to that part of the world in January provided few options other than to stay inside and apply full attention to record making. Whatever the case, the resulting music — recorded in a mere six frosty days (with supplementary recording back in the cities) finds Bryson and the Weakerthans settling into a deeply sympathetic shared groove.
The two acts favor an uncluttered approach to arrangements, leaving plenty of space for Bryson’s sensitive and sardonic observations and intimate vocal delivery. On the acidic “Kissing Cousins,” Bryson’s droll vocal is buoyed by Jason Tait’s just-so percussive accents and some unexpected horn flourishes. On “Constellation,” it’s Tait’s hiccuping broken beat that keeps melodic torpor at bay. On “Anything And All,” the approach is to strip away all adornments to just guitar and piano as Bryson reflects on the approaching new year and the one just gone. Then the tranquility is dashed by a slow-building cacophony that is abruptly replaced by what sounds like a toy piano riff that lingers like a New Year’s Eve hangover. It’s a remarkable climax to the record, and belies the tranquillized rustic conditions in which it was made.
The 10 songs are of such uniform excellence, let’s hold out hope that The Falcon Lake Incident will be more than just an incident, but the start of an enduring collaboration.