I always feel like comparison is a lazy form of music journalism. Saying that Band X sounds like Band Y is kind of a cop-out, as well as being an insult to a band who is most certainly trying to sound original. But the fact remains that it’s hard to write about music. Attaching text to an art form that exists outside of it is an ongoing challenge, and sometimes the most succinct way to describe sounds is to say they remind us of other sounds. But it shouldn’t become a habit for any music reviewer.
I wrote all of that because now I’m going to tell you that the vocal harmonies on the latest Wilderness of Manitoba album Island of Echoes remind me of classic 70s acts like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and Fleetwood Mac. This isn’t a bad thing at all — the voices of Will Whitwham, Stefan Banjevic, Scott Bouwmeester, and Amanda Balsys in three- and four-part harmony are tight, consistently in tune and expertly mixed, especially on gloriously-mellow tracks like “Golden Thyme” — but, well, see above. I hope they’d be flattered by the comparison, especially since the band has stated that the ”nostalgia and all that surrounds it” was their central theme when creating the album.
It’s easy to focus on the vocal harmonies as being the focal point of Island of Echoes, but let’s not ignore the instrumental playing, which is equally ear-grabbing. A lush bed of electric guitar, Hammond organ, and synths adds to that 70s folk-rock feel, and multi-instrumentalists Banjavic and Whitman throw in the occasional banjo or acoustic guitar at opportune moments. There’s also Balsys’ effective violin playing to consider.
This vocal/instrumental prowess culminates in the stellar “Island of the Day Before,” easily the highlight of the album. A easy groove is set up by a kick-drum/rimshot/guitar combination, kicking into full band after a couple of minutes. The rhythms always feel solid, even as they increase in intensity and drive, and easily above those harmonies soar and undulate. This is The Wilderness of Manitoba at its best: admirably honouring its musical influences, but always looking forward and up.
Island of Echoes is available at iTunes.
This is The Wilderness of Manitoba at its best: admirably honouring its musical influences, but always looking forward and up.