Great Lake Swimmers singer-songwriter Tony Dekker has a profound passion for the environment. He’s a guest blogger for the World Wildlife Federation, wrote a song for Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and was an early signatory of the Canadians for the Great Bear campaign. It’s fitting, then, that almost half his band’s sixth LP, A Forest of Arms, was recorded deep within Ontario’s Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves. Taking full advantage of their stalactite-studded studio, the Toronto quintet’s latest offering is packed with echoing vocals, soaring strings, and plenty of resounding acoustic guitar, double bass, and banjo.
Dekker doesn’t put his Greenie ideology front-and-center on every cut, but it’s a current that runs throughout the album. On “I Was a Wayward Pastel Bay”, the singer imagines himself as a horse, while downtempo ditty “The Great Bear” bemoans the threat human greed poses to British Columbia’s pristine coastal temperate rainforest.
Unfortunately, Great Lake Swimmers refuse to take any risks, instead sticking to the formula that’s worked well for them thus far. The tracks all blend together into a generic folk album. Dekker’s vocals are crisp, and Miranda Mulholland’s violin is a pleasant addition to any song, but A Forest of Arms treads on terrain that’s been cultivated ad nauseam. And a lot of the lyrics are absolutely cringe-worthy. “One More Charge at the Red Cape”, an otherwise tight, sprightly number, touts this awkward turn of phrase: “Click click through the windows and doors/ I’ll love you through the ceiling/ I’ll love you through the floors.”
With artists like Father John Misty and Sufjan Stevens probing complex emotional and societal quagmires with sharp sarcasm and bare-naked sentiment, A Forest of Arms seems dated. Still, props to Dekker for making Mother Earth a priority.
Essential Tracks: “Zero in the City”, “Shaking All Over”