Like many Saskatoon music-listeners, I first heard Shuyler Jansen play at Amigos Cantina after he relocated here from Edmonton, leaving behind his alt-country band Old Reliable.
Jansen has released three solo records since playing with Old Reliable, the most recent being Voice from the Lake, released on Vancouver’s Scratch Recordings.
Voice from the Lake is unlike anything Jansen has put out to date. While Hobotron (2003) and Today’s Remains (2007) are undoubtedly strong albums, both are very conscious of the genres they are working within. Hobotron (as the name suggests) is an active melding of electronic and country, while Today’s Remains is essentially working within the alt-country framework. Voice from the Lake contains elements of many genres without actively trying to subvert, adhere to or resist them. The result is an album that goes where it needs to go.
Sure, there are songs that are essentially country songs with more effects like “Wedding Band,” but that’s beside the point. The point is that the concerns of individual songs are first and foremost. Howling synthesizers meld into whining pedal steel; thickly distorted guitars sit atop tribal drumbeats.
If the music is self-assured, the lyrics are the opposite. Full of questions and broken images, the lyrics express confusion, mystery and longing. The cover features a sketch of Jansen, wearing what look to be elven robes, surrounded by purplish-blue, wind-swept faces. Strangely, the cover image seems to capture the mood of the album: experimental, idiosyncratic and loud. And if you’re looking for lyrics to match the strangeness of the cover art, check out “Brand New Wick.”
The combination of heavy reverb, melody, effects, enigmatic lyrics and rapidly shifting moods makes Voice from the Lake somewhat reminiscent of late ’90s alt-rock.
In any case, Voice from the Lake is an unrestrained and powerful album. On “Don’t See it Changin’” Jansen asks, “Where’d I learn to keep my guard up?” But Jansen has dropped his guard and created a cool and unique new record.