Lakefield - Swan Song
Release Date: February 14, 2014
Record Label: Unsigned
Last week, for the 11th installment of the "My Back Pages" older music feature, fellow staff writer Chris Collum and I worked our way through Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, a task that left me pondering whether there was anything in music more powerful than the break up album. I wondered if any other form of musical expression could afford such frank honesty between the artist and their listeners, whether any other type of subject matter could ever incite such universal relatability. This week, however, I’m thinking instead of the grandiose “farewell” album. The pre-planned goodbye. The swan song.
Last Thursday, on the same day Chris and I published the Dylan-centered "My Back Pages," the AbsolutePunk community was rocked with the announcement that Anberlin, one of the pillars of the scene this website caters to, would be disbanding after the release of their forthcoming album and one last world tour. For the listeners who grew up soundtracking their lives to the band’s songs and albums, the news was striking and bittersweet, a reminder that nothing lasts forever and that some bands just choose to quit while they’re ahead. But even for people like me, casual fans who would rather formulate the band’s best songs into mixtapes and playlists rather than listen to their full-length records, the news found a place to resonate strongly. Band break-ups and artist retirements happen. For every artist who will probably make records until they’re on their deathbed – Dylan is definitely a guy who comes in mind here – there are other bands who would prefer to leave the game on their own terms. An articulately crafted goodbye album, a final statement of love to their fans, and then silence forevermore.
So appears to be the case with Lakefield, a five-piece indie pop band, hailing from Vancouver, who have chosen their latest EP as a pre-determined ending point. That the EP – appropriately titled Swan Songs – lays to rest a band that not a lot of people are familiar with doesn’t really matter. I personally had never heard a note of their music prior to finding this release wedged in my email inbox. But just as with a break-up album, there are universal signals and themes here that are easy to latch on to or be swept away by. It’s a record of beginnings and endings, hellos and goodbyes, and it attaches to the same indexed emotions that all of us have felt at one time or another. It’s about that moment when you have to draw a line in the sand between who you were and who you are going to be, and that subtext almost singlehandedly makes the record great, regardless of its musical content.
Luckily, the musical content is largely enjoyable fare, mimicking the tried-and-true boy/girl indie pop style that has been employed, to great success, by everyone from Stars to Mates of State to She & Him. Vocalists Steven Luscher and Kate Rossiter play off one another quite nicely, forming warm harmonies that mesh and expand over a bed of instrumentation that offers up more surprises than you might think. Opener and first single “Good Guy” is grounded by fractious, post-rock guitar work, while closing track “Your Conviction is Sweet” is graced by the elegant pomp of trumpets. They’re little more than small nuances of the sound, but it’s nice to hear the band break freely from more conventional arrangements when necessary.
Not that “conventional” is necessarily a bad thing. “Good Guy,” the set’s finest track, is marked by a very simplistic melody, delivered by the lilting alto voice of Rossiter. It’s the only track where Rossiter really gets to control the vocal spectrum of the piece (though blooming harmonies at the song’s peak take it to another level), and it makes you long for an album full of similarly predictable but comfortable indie pop with her at the helm. Here, the quirky Stars-esque motif is supplanted by a more earnest pop balladeer sound, with Rossiter sounding remarkably like an early Ingrid Michaelson. When she delivers the song’s key line (“Why should I start moving on and wondering if you could have been mine?), it breaks your heart. Had the EP been just this one four-minute number, I have a feeling that it would have been a suitable swan song in and of itself.
Lakefield’s sound is significantly less effective when Rossiter is placed in the background, as on the piano-laced “Hand Delivered,” where she shares the mic with Luscher. Luscher is a fine enough vocalist, with a tone and enunciation that recalls Ben Folds. However, the vocal production when both Rossiter and Luscher are singing is bizarrely inadequate here, making it sound as if the two are disconnected from one another and singing in separate booths in a recording studio. In fact, the production on “Hand Delivered” is just generally weak, lacking the punch to make the song’s fuzzy electric guitar, the crisp tinkling of piano keys, and the flow of the singers’ voices really join together into a cohesive whole. It’s a weird problem that seems to be completely banished on the next song, a similarly arranged number called “Cupid” where Rossiter and Luscher sound wonderfully in sync and where the instruments pop from the texture as they should. The comparison is jarring, like something you might expect to hear between a demo and a fully produced track, not between two subsequent songs on an official release.
Swan Songs pretty much continues in the vein of “Cupid” for the rest of its runtime, hitting a quirky “Interlude” track – delivered with false starts and all by Rossiter on piano and voice – and a nice penultimate track that splits the difference between Copeland and Something Corporate. Meanwhile, “You Conviction is Sweet” feels like a strangely anticlimactic way to end the record and the band’s career, despite a solid guitar crescendo toward the end. It begs the question of what kind of song you’d want to use when laying your legacy to rest. Personally, I’d opt for something sprawling and epic, filled with emotive vocals, high notes, and crashing symphonies of sound. That Lakefield opt to go another way entirely is fine, but it leaves the record feeling a bit truncated, robbed of some of the natural power that it should possess as a pre-determined goodbye album. Still, Swan Songs is a solid collection of music from a reasonably talented bunch of musicians, and even if the record handicaps itself at the finish line, the lingering beauty of songs like “Good Guy” and “Cupid” make the journey worthwhile.