Them there Canadians can be an unassuming lot (not that I'm a fan of generalization, but you know.). They get quite passionate about Ice Hockey, Mounties, snow mobiles and Niagara Falls (Their side at least) but are not necessarily the most vivacious people in the world. This may not be the best of personality traits for an Olympic squad (7 out of 10 Canadians were, apparently, satisfied with 1 gold medal from the London games), however as far as music is concerned it seems, in the recent past at least, that artistic quality and creativity has flourished in just such an environment where merely the taking part seems to have had a very positive knock on effect.
Flowing from this seemingly unstoppable rich vein of form comes the new album from Patrick Watson. 'Adventures In Your Own Back Yard' is Patrick Watson's 4th studio album (as a band) and follows up 2009's 'Wooden Arms' and their Polaris (think Mercury's) award winning 2006 release 'Close To Paradise'.
Should you be unfamiliar with Patrick's work then you are about to discover a very considered, at times beautiful, finely balanced and sometimes surprisingly individual artist that makes intriguing and well-crafted songs. Patrick Watson's music and style meet at a confluence of much revered artists that include Antony Heggerty, Jeff Buckley and Devendra Banhart which provides for a magical combination when it works well.
'Adventures In Your Own Back Yard' starts with a song in two quite distinct parts. 'Lighthouse' begins as softly and gently as you could wish for in any introduction. The delicately struck piano keys and even lighter feathered vocals combine for a stunningly effective, emotive and above all evocative entree. As Patrick dreams 'of a lighthouse in the woods to help us get back to the world', there is a sea shift in the song as two thirds of the way through it, it builds to a crescendo of cascading keys that gives way to a rally of horns harvested from Herb Albert or a Spaghetti Western soundtrack. It may sound rather peculiar but it really does work very well, and, as it turns out throughout 'Adventures', it is just this kind of unexpected inclusion that Patrick and his band are particularly good at.
'Blackwind' steps to a different beat altogether but still manages to harness Patrick's voice brilliantly. The faster pitter patter of the restless rhythm makes a fabulously neurotic score on and around which Patrick balances and blends his vocal. 'Quiet Crowd' begins as a more sombre, but no less alluring, affair. Starting with a great opening line ('Would you rather be more than the things that you say, just be the words that you say to yourself in your head when nobody's around, or would you rather be part of the crowd, or just a single sound waiting to be heard') and set to treble key tones, it is another of the album highlights that transforms and flowers as the song develops. 'Into Giants' ups the BPM and mood of optimism. Scents of summer, sunflowers, meadows, dragonflies and fair grounds are captured in this jolly tale of new lovers. The heavenly harmonies are matched by a delicate duet that combines beautifully with the faultless arrangement and instrumentation.
A more sinister, foreboding mood characterises the second part of 'Adventures'. The instrumental composition of 'The Things You Do' has more tension and darkness than any of the album's previous tracks only allowing itself a slight release from some tormented anguish through the final violin passage. The closer 'Swimming Pools' is similarly claustrophobic, acting to completely envelope you as the 12 track set concludes. 'Noisy Sunday' gives us Patrick Watson's take on Elbow and the completely fabulous title track, 'Adventures In Your Own Back Yard' (the song), sees the band once again bring out the horns to magnificent effect. The score could almost be a westernised Portishead backing track with its looping guitar riffs, odd sound effects, prickly piano notes and haunting lyrics. (If they ever re-make Westworld again, this would be must for the soundtrack).
'Adventures In Your Own Back Yard' is a great album with few flaws. 'Strange Crooked Road' is a little disjointed as the song's changes aren't quite pulled off with such aplomb as either 'Lighthouse' or 'Quiet Crowd', and 'Step Out For A While' is weaker altogether and should have possibly been lost in the final edit. These are minor points of observation, however, on an otherwise very well written, played and produced album and are only highlighted as such because of the calibre of the other standout tracks. Patrick's voice is a joy to hear throughout and some of the more individual arrangements are highly original creating both beguiling and absorbing songs of depth and character. 'Adventures In Your Own Back Yard' is an album you should hear.
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