Like most people, I’ve had my heart broken a couple of times. It’s funny how much that can affect your listening habits. When you’re up you want to hear throbbing electro-beats or brash punk guitars. But when you’re down rolling around in the mucky throes of self-pity, raging and cursing at the cosmos, you gravitate towards sad songs. In the words of Elton John, “[Sad songs] reach into your room, just feel their gentle touch…”
Wait…is this about gloomy music, or Catholic priests? (Ba-doom ching!)
Music should make you feel better I suppose, but when down I’ve always used it to amplify whatever depressing feelings I’ve had. If I’m feeling broken-hearted, the last thing I want is some sunny, optimistic prick telling me that everything will be alright and I’ll learn to be a stronger person for it. I want the music to yank me to the depths of the oblivion quicksand that is my bruised and battered soul. Consequently, when I’ve been down I’ve listened to a lot of sad sack (and usually acoustic) music. Shit like Iron & Wine, Nick Drake, and the man who took the commitment to a bit to a whole new level, Elliot Smith. You have to be very serious about depression to commit seppuku, the Japanese art of disembowelling yourself with your own sword. He wins. No one can beat that.
Anyway, I’m happily married now, so all that late night drinking, swearing at the universe, and obsessively listening to cheerless music is a thing of the past. But when I heard the new album from Lake Forest, called Silver Skies, the vibe came rushing back to me. I thought, “Hey, I should pass this along to any other pathetic broken-hearted wieners out there.”
Lake Forest is the solo project of Toronto band The Wilderness of Manitoba’s singer Will Whitwham. If you’re broken hearted and living on the prairie, you’ll especially identify well with this album – it loosely revolves around the idea of winter, which is a pretty awesome time to be broken-hearted. It’s cold. It’s grey (or silver). Everyone around you is slowly losing their grip on sanity, waiting for the white chill to subside. Even the cover art captures this with beauty, featuring a patch of frost covered trees in a somewhat pastoral, albeit winter setting.
The music itself has respectable hooks and a sound that is pretty similar to another winter-loving-broken-hearted-cabin-dwelling-album-making guy – Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver (it also somewhat reminds me of Montreal-via-Saskatoon transplant Dumb Angel). The songs utilize soft acoustic layers, the occasional subtle string arrangement, and soft, breathy vocals. Even the production is similar to a Bon Iver, with the lead vocals often being doubled and a bit of reverb splashed in to give it that drifting, melancholic effect. The instrumentation is sparse, but smart, with little accents here and there that make it interesting, while still holding onto the idea of an isolating, hazy winter.
My only real criticism would be that Lake Forest is not really bringing anything new to the table – but hey, who is these days? It doesn’t need to push the envelope – Silver Skies will fit nicely on your shelf next to Bon Iver, waiting for you to stumble home, drunk, cursing the boy or girl that left you behind. Well, fuck them. Let them have their new life. You’ve got your sad sack music, a big fucking bottle of whiskey, and a bleeding hot broken heart to keep you warm this winter.