Two years ago, if you had to choose one Saskatoon band that was likely to get international acclaim, The Deep Dark Woods was it.
The five-piece group’s music has evolved somewhat since 2006’s self-titled debut. On that album, you could hear the country twang louder than the wistful folk of their current sound, and a live show featured just as much dancing as it did swaying.
With each album since then, however, the group has slowed down and produced polished, haunting tracks like “Charlie’s Is Coming Down” — the band’s entry in a CBC Radio song contest. Singer Ryan Boldt’s voice is perfect for the forlorn humming of a prairie tune.
The Deep Dark Woods perfected their sound on 2009’s Winter Hours, with songs like “All the Money I Had is Gone” and “Birds on the Bridge” perfectly capturing the sometimes dismal and depressing winter mood in Saskatoon. Their latest album, The Place I Left Behind, continues in this vein.
Released in late summer, The Place I Left Behind is another competent collaboration between Boldt, drummer Lucas Goetz, organ-player Geoff Hillhorst, bassist Chris Mason and guitarist Burke Barlow. Fans of the band will find much to like about the album, but after repeated listens, it can be hard to find anything new or innovative.
There are standout tracks — like “Westside Street,” title track “The Place I Left Behind” and “Sugar Mama” — but it’s also easy to lose track of song changes as they tend to blend together. This could be by design — the album does seem like a complete package — but becoming inoffensive background music is hardly what the band aims for. It could be that after five years together, The Deep Dark Woods have become comfortable in their admittedly elegant sound. But the most striking song, “Dear John,” has bassist Chris Mason singing rather than frontman Boldt. Perhaps it’s time to consider shuffling the deck more often.
The Place I Left Behind is a very good album, skillfully put together by a talented set of musicians. But it doesn’t take many risks, and might leave long-time Deep Dark Woods fans unfulfilled.