Review- “Island of Echoes”- The Wilderness of Manitoba

reviewed by Michael Thomas

How do you improve on a folk formula that worked exceedingly well the first time around? For Toronto-based group The Wilderness of Manitoba, the answer is this: speed it up. Don’t get me wrong- there will always be a fondness in my heart for the emotion-baring, funereal folk song. But when a folk album can make a listener want to dance then you know you’re doing the right thing.

When You Left the Fire was a beautiful album. It showcased the band’s beautiful (you could almost call them trademark) vocal harmonies alongside rich folk instrumentation. Here, for the band’s latest effort, they’ve gained even more confidence and have produced a work that exceeds that of their previous recording.

For one thing, this album is gorgeous. Just reading the track list may be enough to make you want to go and lie on the grass in a park somewhere. Track names like “Golden Thyme” and “The First Snowfall” tell a lot about the character of the band. WOM is also just as poetic in their lyrics, no doubt largely thanks to Will Whitwham, who also showed off his poetic side with his solo album, Silver Skies.

By track three of this album you should already be hooked on for the whole experience. Instrumental opener “Balloon Lamp” quietly makes way to “Morning Sun.” The latter, thanks to shimmering electric guitar and a steady kick drum, could almost be a rock song. It’s also a great introduction to those unfamiliar with WOM’s killer vocal harmonies. This leads to “Echoes,” one of the finest songs on the album. It skillfully blends an uptempo beat with Whitwham’s gentle vocals to create one beautiful track (that may also make you want to dance).

To hear more upbeat and powerful songs you can also check out “The Island of the Day Before,” arguably one of the catchiest songs on the album. “Glory Days” also is one of the rare songs that has all three of my favourite things- a song length under three minutes, vocal harmonies and horns.

Just because WOM have embraced a faster tempo, they certainly haven’t forgotten how to play more melodic numbers. “Golden Thyme” slowly layers instruments to create a drawn-out, dreamlike track. “The Escape” uses a multitude of instruments, from plucked strings to keys to electronics to create another strong creation.

You have to hand it to the Wilderness of Manitoba- rather than just rest on their laurels and continue to deliver the same experience album after album, the band can try out something new with confidence and put together a fantastic collection like Island of Echoes.

The album is available today via Pheromone Recordings.

Top Tracks: “Echoes”; “Chasing Horses”; “Glory Days”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) +*swoop*

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