From the outside, the new record by The Young Novelists, In City & Country, is a lyrical
investigation of small town Ontario life and its (in)compatibility with the perpetual,
peripheral option of the big-city escape hatch. However, through the complex motivations that
web these songs, and the architecture of bandshells and old churches, lit by
intently melancholy chordal twists, a fearful suspension of volition becomes
the tonal center and conflict point of the album. Indecision unites the crises
of this bucolic, often gothic collection of characters and narrators.
Literate head novelistas, Graydon James and Laura Spink, have been working on this project “since almost before
the last album (2015’s well-regarded and award-winning made us strangers).” They first had the impetus for it in 2014. A Canada
Council Grant put the idea into action. “It’s been really interesting just to
talk with people about these stories, finding out lots of interesting things,
each unique to its own place. It’s pretty applicable to everyplace you go.”
“Ridgway (the subject of Back To The Hard Times) has probably
about 1200 people living there, down on the shores of Lake Erie. There used to
be the Crystal Beach Amusement Park from the late 1800’s til 1989. It was
called the Coney Island of Buffalo –a couple of roller coasters, Glenn Miller
Orchestra in the Crystal Beach Ballroom. Now there`s nothing but a breakwater.
At some point it didn`t work anymore and then what do people do?”
there's a broken bike in our backyard /
shouldn't have to be so hard / worrying at that scar is gonna leave a mark /
cold sand on the beach & cold stars, out of
reach you're trying out your speech as the days turn dark
building up: the tension between holding onto the past with one hand and trying
to reach into the future with the other becomes a tangible ache. Problems defying analysis spark the song
titles: “Don’t Wait”, “Now’s The Time” and “I Moved On” advise expedience and
boldness, while the helpless ennui of “All Alone” and “Living Without A Sound”
singe the heart with their hard consequences.
for these lost voices is ultimately realized within the organically lush sound
of the group’s SoCal-grade harmonies: they arch like parallel lines etched in
infinity, evoking the poignance that the lyrics often understate.
Laura, Simon & Graydon at Radio Regent
Jackson Browne-tinted delivery supports Spink’s earnest emotional resonance unilaterally
and then flowers like incense flumes in the duets, and occasional sublime four-part
passages. Subtle bends in the songs’ trajectories keep the backgrounds episodic:
engorged with a furious buzz and burr (reminiscent of Neil Young’s White Falcon
guitar) one minute, and reduced to a night bird note or two the next.
“(Guitarist) John Law
takes the most vague ideas I throw at him,” says Graydon, “like"make it
really rock!" or "something like a sonic tapestry" and he makes
up these solos. He has a really great knack for exceeding my expectations.” The
progression on this disk from
folk-roots to folk-rock will pose a challenge to some of their audience.
``You`d be surprised how many people don`t like drums,``smirks Spink.
Outstanding summer jam ``Come Round Again`` will certainly magnetize more new
fans for the Novelists, and their core audience of new-folk bro`s and bae`s, sprinkled
with Mariposa elders who delight in the band`s relevance to the Coldplay
generation, will be throbbed out by the intensified social scope of their
The predicaments they are encapsulating are
of the moment, extending across the societal boundaries that separate city and
country. When you climb inside the music, it summons a quiet remembrance of
your early memories of a moaning church organ. Or is it the thrum an alien
cruiser? And how will it all end?
Find out as The Young Novelists bring In City & Country live to Toronto this week.