By Mike Dunn
The Promise Of Strangers
Borealis Records / Westpark Records
Vancouver pop-folk group The Fugitives return after four years with their latest offering, The Promise of Strangers. The album finds the band making a noticeable rise in production quality from their earlier work.
The Promise Of Strangers is a series of dedications to people both known and unknown to the band, and in some cases fictional. It’s an album that brims with rich harmonies, both vocal and instrumental.
Beginning with a low-key vibe on the cut “I Have No Words (For Leonard Cohen)”, the band takes their time to build the song, when the chorus drops in with a subtle organ and banjo higher in the mix. By the second chorus, the classic Cohen gospel background vocals come to the fore, and the section is an indication of what’s to come throughout the record: harmonies that hinge on smart chord changes and composition. “See This Winter Out (For Amy)” is closer to The Fugitives’ earlier work, the kind of kick-drum-with-banjo vibe popularized by Mumford & Sons, (which can either be a good thing or a tired cliché, depending who you ask). Indeed, the “whoa” hook abounds throughout the record, at this point well overtired for this era.
“Northern Lights (For Steel Audrey)” kicks off with a nice acoustic/banjo/organ intro and a change in pace vocally, while the evocation of the celestial occurrence feels a little too easy, a kind of chocolate chip cookie that’s palatable for anyone to chew on. “London In The Sixties (For Dr. McMorran)” is a standout, with its clever beat, rousing horns, and the line, “The English are the kings of dressing down the blues,” finally drops in a bit of sarcasm on what is ultimately a very earnest record.
While the production on The Promise Of Strangers is beautifully executed and The Fugitives’ willingness to take a leap sonically is a step up from their previous work, the album feels a little too choreographed. It’s the kind of easily digested folk-pop that fits for the wholesome folks on a festival afternoon, which honestly feels like the whole point. A little grit and grime could do these escapees a world of good.The Fugitives