By Mike Ryan
CALGARY — There’s a whiff of irony in the title of the latest offering from The Northwest Passage. Paul van Kampen and company have crafted A_WAKE, a collection of tracks, many of which feel at peace in the dreamy and exploratory task of confronting the past.
That’s not to say the entirety of the band’s effort is steeped in the ambient. Quite contrary to that statement, these talented artists espouse great moments of frenetic, yet melodic builds, prompting catharsis to rain down.
The band’s piano-driven melodies are bolstered with violin, bass and guitar punctuating van Kampen’s musings on tragedy and loss, love, hope, and atonement for possible mistakes. Originally, he’d had songs ready to go, while the formation of the band allowed further ideas to flourish.
“Some of the songs existed even before the band did. ‘Lorelei’ was the first song we tackled, and actually, in some ways the lineup was formed around the song and the vision I had for it,” van Kampen recalls. “Originally it was just Daniel Wilson and I, but I asked Darren Young to join on upright bass at the time, and once we got working with that song and a couple more, we knew we needed a violinist. Darren knew Laura Reid and knew that she was ideal for the song, so yeah, the song actually formed the band I guess you could say.”
“Lorelei,” a standout from the album, starts out ambient with distant wailing and squealing guitar giving way to an active bass line and punchy piano. While the components build, a driving kick drum and skittering snare hits propel the song to a steady groove, before it finally takes off with it’s dissonant ambience and swirling dual violin tracks.
Opening track, “Reignite,” has a vibe not dissimilar to Patrick Watson in its own nostalgic and mournful way. It’s a song of loss and not being able to go back to a remembered place.
“‘Reignite’ is about a childhood friend of mine who passed away a short while ago, but it’s not really a sad song. It’s more about wanting to be back in that place that we were as kids. It takes a bit of a sad turn when I reflect on our friendship falling apart as we went to different social circles later on, but it’s hopeful as well,” van Kampen reflects.
Title track “A_WAKE” is a slow burn that rides cathartic waves of brief intensity into moments of introspection. “Negative Space” depicts a snowed-in family as fear sets in against an unseen enemy. Its claustrophobic theme butts up against the large production of bowed strings, layered electric guitar and lush harmonies. Fellow Albertan Clinton St. John appears by way of a beautifully-played cover track. “I think my favourite track on the album is actually a song that I’ve always adored. Even though I tend to lean away from doing covers whenever possible, I really wanted to take a crack at his song, ‘In Corners We Grow.’ Clinton and I have been pals for a long time, and this song is always getting in my head. He released the song a couple of times on different albums with different takes on it, both of them gorgeous. My wife and I both really fell in love with this song on road trips, and so it brings super positive feelings to me all the time. I’m also really proud of our interpretation because while it’s quite a different take from Clinton’s version. I really think it does justice to the song.”
The depth and breadth of the band’s efforts is on full display with this release, and is a perfect way to tune out the world on a grey winter day.
A_WAKE will be released at The Ship & Anchor with accompaniment from SAvK, and Clinton St. John on October 5th.A_WAKE, AB, Alberta, Ship & Anchor, The Northwest Passage