It’s been said by people much more downtrodden than me, but life is completely unfair. It isn’t fair that the majority of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, violence, and disease tend to hit hardest the people least equipped to deal with them, but that seems to be the way the world and this life generally works. Whether natural or man-made, death and destruction seems to be a recurring theme, and nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the poorer regions of the world. Either due to fear, confusion, or complete apathy, Western musicians in the underground and overground are avoiding the world’s troubles as a song topic to a degree unprecedented in the rock ‘n roll era.
Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers directly avoids the plight of the world as a song topic as well, but the band still evokes the feelings and images of the more disenfranchised sections of this planet by creating a sad, haunting atmosphere filled with heartbreak, loss, and a few glimpses of hope hidden behind the dark clouds. The Swimmers’ sophomore release, Bodies and Minds, is a 45-minute collection of sad, brooding, rustic anthems that are perfect for the emotionally fractured individual who starts his or her mornings by thumbing through USA Today in search of the previous day’s Iraqi death toll. Even if you are not one of those pensively distressed personalities, Bodies and Minds is still an excellent record.
While maintaining the melancholy folk sensibilities of their self-titled debut release (which was recorded in an abandoned silo in rural Ontario), Bodies and Minds contains a much fuller sound that includes banjo, drums, Wurlitzer, and pedal steel playing, as well as Tony Dekker’s wistful vocals. Highlights include the pop-inflected jangle of “When it Flows,” the sad, lonesome harmonica and banjo plying of “Various Stages,” and the dark, haunting echoes of the title song. Other key moments include the Nick Drake meets Big Star’s third LP fireside strumming of “To Leave it Behind” and the desolate folk of “I Could be Nothing.”
Make no mistake – Bodies and Minds is not an easy listen. It is sad, self-absorbed, and an all-around downer. But the beauty of the record is the way in which it evocatively accounts the pain and distress of one individual and thus reflects on a small scale the pain and distress of the entire world.