Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Wilderness of Manitoba: When You Left the Fire

There's something about bands with Canadian provinces in their names.

I've written about my love for The Rural Alberta Advantage, who this year released an outstanding second album and put on one of the best live shows I've seen in a while. A few weeks ago I was browsing my recommended artists and noticed a band called The Wilderness of Manitoba. Occasionally just the name of a band can give you a pretty good inkling that you're going to like them. That happened for me here, and the feeling was most definitely correct.

The Wilderness of Manitoba released their debut full-length, When You Left the Fire, two weeks ago, and if you like indie folk with gorgeous harmonies, this could just be your new favorite album. The dreamy opening notes of first track "Orono Park" are enough to instantly transport me, perhaps to the wilderness in a simpler time and place. Then the vocals come in, and it's really a thing of beauty. Most of the music on this album is fairly simple. Acoustic guitar, sometimes a banjo or string part. It doesn't have to be complicated; it's there to support the vocals, and their four-part harmonies are what really set the band apart. I've seen Fleet Foxes used as a comparison, and it's probably an apt one. What makes The Wilderness of Manitoba even better, to me, is that one of the vocalists is female, and I'm a sucker for well-done male/female harmonies. And the ones here are done very well indeed.

"Summer Fires" from the album is currently available as a free download from Amazon; it was in fact deemed an editor's pick. I'd strongly recommend it if you'd like an introduction to the band. This majestic sounding song actually made me think of the folksier side of A Northern Chorus, which coming from me is a high compliment indeed. (Hmm, another band whose name alludes to their being Canadian!)

The album continues on with track after track of enjoyable pastoral sounding music. "Native Tongue," the second to last track, might be the album's best track. I'd guess it's the band's drummer's favorite, because it's the only one where his playing will attract a whole lot of attention. That's not meant as a criticism of the rest of the album, because it doesn't need exciting percussion parts. But I'd be happy to hear more songs along the lines of "Native Tongue" in the future. It starts a cappella, and the band's vocal prowess really shines here. Some gentle acoustic instrumentation then joins the voices. A little more than half-way through the song, it completely changes directions, with some atmospheric guitar and an exotic sounding percussion part. It's very different from anything else on the album, but it fits right in, and sounds great.

Closing track "Reveries En Couleurs" is another departure in sound. It's a 13-minute instrumental track, and although it could probably be a few minutes shorter and not lose much, it's quite lovely all the same.

This is definitely an album to check out for indie folk fans, and a band to watch. I saw them open for Cloud Cult at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights on Sunday. It was really an excellent performance by both bands; it's rare to see two acts that strong on the same bill. Cloud Cult play high-energy orchestral indie pop; I hadn't listened to them much previously and came away very impressed. I guess a band that includes (variously) a violin, cello, trombone, and french horn in addition to more standard rock instrumentation, and that has up to five people singing at once, is hard for me to resist. On top of all that, they had someone create a painting live on stage during their set. I'd never heard of such a thing before, and it definitely added something to the performance. Anyone who has the chance to see either of these two bands on tour should jump at the opportunity.

Here are a couple of pictures I took at the show; more can be found here.

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