Sometimes, in the process of recording music, a band's sweat, calluses and grit go in one end and 0s and 1s come out the other with a sort of sterility that belies the original wild magic. It is difficult, and far more rare, to capture music burning with all the fury, fire and grit that make you fall in love with a live band in the first place. It is alchemy. And it's achieved in spades by a band known as The Wooden Sky.
In the title track from its fifth full-length record, Swimming In Strange Waters, the Toronto five-piece transports you to frontman Gavin Gardiner's home studio. Gardiner's guttural and rousing vocals, the psychedelic swirl of screaming guitars and whirling organ and a rhythm section that feels at once deeply rooted and dangerously unpredictable are all mixed by the deft hand of John Agnello. You can feel it swelling into an almost uncomfortable wave of power — and that's before you consider the intense and important story behind the song.
"'Swimming In Strange Waters,'" Gardiner says, "is my attempt to come to terms with the anger I still have about my grandfather's sexual abuse of my mother and its lasting effects on my family." Listen, and listen again. Tucked in alongside the wailing guitars and warbling synths, you will find a brave poet is using his voice to make the unknown knowable — or, in his own words, an artist who "feel[s] the weight of responsibility to act and make things better for the people to come."
That sense of responsibility has always been present for The Wooden Sky, which has previously written about the violence endured by indigenous women and whose upcoming record will include both a rallying cry against the Keystone XL pipeline and a song inspired by refugee families. This is a band that handles delicate subjects with psychedelic swagger and a depth of lyrical intelligence that is never too on-the-nose, but always powerful.
Swimming In Strange Waters comes out April 7 via Nevado Music.