The cover image of Folly & The Hunter’s Tragic Care is that of a mountainous landscape being swarmed with anthropomorphic spirits at dawn, all painted in muted colours.
This, combined with the record’s title and the band’s probably-intended-as-endearingly-esoteric-and-vaguely-old-timey-but-kind-of-hopelessly-goofy name, all adds up to a first impression that seems so aggressively determined to not just fall into, but to consciously become the very essence of the stale and unfortunate Serious Canadian Indie-Folk Band archetype that it’s easy to dismiss the whole thing right off the bat. And in a way, it’s a totally justified reaction. If you already think you’ve heard this band before just by adding up all these extra-textual details, it’s because you have. There is nothing immediately special or, heaven forbid, cool about Folly & The Hunter.
Their influences are blatantly obvious and unsurprising (Sigur Ros, Bon Iver, etc., etc.); you can hear them trying to hit all the marks. But hey, there is no evil inherent in simply wanting to make more of something you love. Folly & The Hunter a band that does one thing – but they do their one thing quite well. There are songs here, most of them good, and throughout they are sprinkled with enough small surprises to give Tragic Care enough of a unique personality that it does end up being more memorable and re-playable than you’d have much cause to expect.
Right from the opening notes of the record, there is a hint of something different. The first eighteen seconds of opening track “Watch For Deer At Dawn” is comprised of a clean, pentatonic guitar pulse over a modestly droning organ. It’s beautiful and, in its curveball Spacemen 3 evocation, weirdly thrilling. Then, some polite piano is introduced and the song immediately loses its edge, settling for a complacent attempt at earnest pastoral majesty, just like countless other bands that have populated the independent Canadian music landscape over the last decade-plus. These brief flirtations with breaking the mold populate the entirety of the record, and, depending on your point of view, can be alternately wonderful and infuriating.
The record’s greatest strength, however, is the band’s sense of melody. It, along with singer Nick Valee’s vocal cadence, can be eerily similar to that of Sufjan Stevens’ earlier, less wildly ambitious work, and it sometimes shares Stevens’ nameless, ghostly quality. The highlight of the record is “There Are No Great Redeemers”, as good a song about consciously disengaging with the dangerous illusion of complete fulfillment a new love affair brings as there’s ever been. As Vallee’s voice floats gracefully over a guitar line that doubles the vocal melody, the narrator’s pensiveness shifts more and more into something resembling a severe – but tangible – epiphany: “She is no great redeemer/I do not feel I need her.” It’s a bold, standout moment on the record, and its because the quietly triumphant nature of the music finally feels earned instead of like a game of aesthetic colour-by-numbers.
Top Track: “There Are No Great Redeemers”
Rating: Young Hoot (Decent)