Guest Contributor: Michael Dallas Miller
Happiness is won and lost on the battlefield that can exist between roommates. This has always been true. For Toronto’s folk ensemble and up-town housemates, The Wilderness of Manitoba, this battle was fought for Happiness and Success and Really Good Music. And when the smoked cleared and the bodies were counted, the last thing standing was a debut full-length called When You Left the Fire. And its glory marches on.
Everything about this album, every intricate harmony and bit of wailing pedal steel, calmly calls for an appreciation of being together. When You Left the Fire tells the story of four men and a lovely young lady living and singing and playing music together while imagining themselves outside the confines of the Toronto city grid. The pop-folk opener “Orono Park” builds a foundation of natural sounds and riverbed rhythms, all with a unique level of depth and texture unseen in most debut LPs. Following with “November” and the waltzing lament “Hermit,” the albums continues to build a musical cabin-in-the-woods, just in time for the breaking sun.
“Harsh Acres” contains a pivotal line that almost says perfectly why this album is great. After a few hop-scotching verses, a dark cloud comes over the song and the band sings together, “We’re on fire. We’re on fire.” There is a strong sense that this band and this record are caught between two worlds—the natural world and the modern world. And it is that tension to which every listener can relate and that gives the record such a sublime texture. It is this feeling that causes the band to wish for fire even though it may hurt, simply because it comes from the earth and it can’t be controlled or captured, much less blogged about. It is this desire for fire with the addition of an urban basement studio alongside the togetherness of the group itself that makes The Wilderness Of Manitoba more than another hip folk group with a growing collection of instruments.
Meandering tunes like “Sea Song,” the banjo-led “In The Family,” and the building and crashing ballad “”White Water,” will make a person believe that thoughtful music can make the world a little bit better place to be. Melissa Dalton’s humble harmonies sound more like wind than convention and play perfectly with Scott Bowmeester’s vocals, Stefan Benjevic’s cello, banjo, and slide guitar, Wil Whitwham’s whirling keys, and Sean Lancaric’s unpredictable percussion. To perfectly illustrate the beautiful tension between Nature and Modernity, the record finishes with “Reveries En Couleurs,” a thirteen minute post-rock dance between acoustic sounds and skyscraper dreams of the world Out There.
There are no typical “hits” on When You Left the Fire, but that’s the beauty of the music created by The Wilderness Of Manitoba. As grand as these songs can be, their majesty and intrigue are as simple and self-contained as the rocks and streams about which the band sings.