Blending classical, literary and folk influences, Lakes of Canada’s latest album is brimming with life
There’s a tendency in indie rock, pop and even folk to follow the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. Sure, these songs can be catchy and good background music at a party, but they lack depth. Lakes of Canada is a band full of deep lyrics. While their music is also great for parties, they should definitely be listened to with undivided attention to experience the full breadth of their sound. Coming from backgrounds in classical music and theory, film scoring and musical theatre, it’s clear that this band is anything but average.
The band started as a duo between Jake Smith and Conor O’Neil. “We drunkenly sang together at a party and were like, ‘Hey, why aren’t we doing this more?’” said Smith. From there, Lakes of Canada was born. They started off as a soft folk-rock band with rudimentary drums and vocal harmonies.
Their band then gained more members, adding a greater repertoire of instruments to their signature brand of harmonic, vocally-driven folk.
“Originally, our goal with the band was to have everybody singing. When [guitarist Tim Dobby] joined … he was so good at guitar that we told him that he could just do that,” Smith said.
With the influx of members came a more definitive folk vibe and with the new focus on combining instrumentals and vocal harmony, the band put out Toll The Bell, their first full-length album, in May of 2012.
On the album, the harmonies have an enveloping quality; each member’s voice blends in melodically to give the songs a real gospel-choir feel. This is backed by a veritable folk-driven symphony of instruments. In their live video for their song “Neverland,” their range of musical instruments is on full display, showcasing a harp, a classical guitar, a cello, a xylophone, a mandolin and several percussive instruments. All of these come together to create a smooth, soft melody supported by their masterful use of vocals that take the listener on a breathtaking adventure.
Though the band’s sound builds a serene atmosphere, their history of studying classical music theory seeps into their song structures, employing more complex and intricate arrangements than the average folk song. As the album progresses, the listener is exposed to different moods, from anxiety and anger to zen-like peacefulness and bliss.
Lakes of Canada are about to drop their second full-length album on Oct. 16 titled Transgressions, in which the band not only grew and built up their sound to make it heavier and more grandiose, but also altered their sound to fit into a somewhat different genre. The alteration to their sound came with the addition of new members and new instruments. Currently, the band consists of Jake Smith on lead vocals, guitar and percussion; Sarah Morasse on vocals, keyboard and organ; Conor O’Neil on drums, vocals, and synth; Tim Dobby on guitar and percussion; and Greg Halpin on vocals, guitar, bass, and percussion. With these new members and instruments came a shift away from the folk genre—they traded their mandolin and classical guitar for electric guitars. They now refer to their genre as “gospel-infused prog-rock.”
Smith would originally write the songs and then the other band members would contribute their own instrumental and vocal parts. As the band grew, they started collaborating together, especially on Transgressions.
“We’ve never been too static with the whole A B A B bridge sort of structure. I would say Transgressions goes even further in that direction,” Smith said of their songwriting process.
The band really touches on their history of musical theatre and film scoring for the structure, which can be seen in the way all of their songs tell a story.
Inspiration for Transgressions’ songs come from the book The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. After reading it, its content stayed with him and ended up becoming the inspiration for this album. The book is about a Christian theocracy that takes over the United States of America and creates a very misogynistic society. Themes that stood out to Smith included violence against women, the way people treat each other, and the political dogma surrounding these issues.
“Unfortunately, the subject matter of this book is still alarmingly relevant, if not even more so, given the climate of the two elections that are happening right now,” Smith said. The songs on Transgressions are generally allegorical in the way they portray these themes.
Lakes of Canada have released two songs from their new record. The title track, “Transgressions,” is about a movement that searches for peace and equality. It features some beautiful choral melodies, piano, percussion and electric guitar that blend fervently to create an empowering arrangement.
The other song, named “Eden,” is about choosing between Eden and Satan. The song consists solely of some finger snapping, rhythmic foot-stomping and the band’s wide range of harmonic vocals, creating a powerful raw sound.
The journey Lakes of Canada has taken brought with it numerous changes and permutations. On Transgressions, the band showcases a mature and charged side to their already dynamic and broad persona.
“We’re always going to be evolving to some degree. I’m sure we’ll always add or subtract certain instruments, change little colours here and there but I think overall we’ve definitely found our sound. This is the kind of sound we want to have, that we want to put forward,” Smith said.