The country-folk sound of Great Lake Swimmers makes for great ambient music, if the desired mood involves drowsily discussing peace and the Canadian landscape while sitting around in a circle burning incense. This holds especially true for the band's upcoming release, Ongiara, due out Mar. 27.
Ongiara is the band's third full-length album, as well as their first release on Nettwerk Records. It again showcases vocalist Tony Dekker's ability to layer softly-sung verses of earthen metaphors over Erik Arneson's somehow somber banjo. Folk fans might appreciate the musical craftsmanship which lends richness to the rolling melodies presented on Ongiara. However, talent and some working knowledge of naturalist poetry does not make for an outstanding album.
While they've been compared to such mainstays as Iron and Wine, the Ontario-based Swimmers fall short of capturing the soul-touching tone achieved by artists like Sam Beam or Elliot Smith. The reason is that the group has nothing of their own to offer, no edge or hint of greater depth to their music. Ongiara is a cut-and-paste folk album, with a body of tracks that flow smoothly, yet yield few that stand on their own. A possible exception to this would be the album's opening track, "Your Rocky Spine," an ode to the Rocky Mountains which could have been the title theme to Deliverance.
As a purely aesthetic source of soft background melody, Ongiara makes for a decent listen. It also makes for excellent music to fall asleep to. Unfortunately, it's difficult not to fall asleep to.