By Scott Reid | 10 November 2004
I was lucky enough to recently catch Cape Breton collective Lighthouse Choir when they opened for the Hidden Cameras at the Halifax Pop Explosion, and though admittedly my expectations weren’t extremely high, the Choir played one of the most surprising and affable opening sets I’d ever seen, one gorgeous and playfully arranged song after another. But, to be sure, the Lighthouse Choir that performed at the Pop Explosion is actually a far cry from the band heard on this record. Self-released under their own omni.cloud label/collective (who knew Cape Breton had an art-pop community, of all things), _The Lighthouse Choir was primarily a low-key project between Devon Morrison and Mark Boudreau with help from several friends that would end up forming the current roster (which now also includes Caroyln Lionais, Kyle Evans, and David MacKinnon). Also fun: it was recorded at a reportedly haunted former NATO base that spans eight stories underground, and also played a major role in the Shag Harbour UFO fiasco.
Consisting mostly of intertwining two chord folk-rock songs and shifting first-person tales from the dead, bookended by a series of instrumentals that work much better in some cases (“The Foggy Forest”) than others (the shrill “Out Out Out!”), _Choir _ is still somehow an impressively diverse debut, one able to make up for its several missteps with some excellent art-rock and folk. At times, it even bears more than striking resemblance to Colin Meloy’s Decemberists — beyond even their shared love of nautical disasters and ancient ghosts, shit like that.
“Alisdair and Anne Dance to Dusty Sunglasses” opens the main body of the record—chasing brief overture “Hooray, You’re Home!”—but is far from its most convincing track; the muffled vocals are more effective elsewhere, and its melody (which could’ve easily been on Andre Ethier’s Featuring Pickles and Price earlier this year, especially the drunken chorus near the end) never seems to truly develop. After two decidedly disparate opening tracks, “Alisdair’s” stark tradition might seem a bit much, but eventually proves to be far closer to the heart of the record than the Manitoba-esque textures of “Forest.”
“Heard Through An Open Window” follows, and begins the body’s string of infectious two-chorders. The version here actually retains most of the live arrangement’s energy and tension; after a lengthy build, the band tosses out the traditional touches of “Alisdair” for a huge vocal chorus that eventually brings the song to its cacophonous end. Likewise, “Weight Worry and the Fishing Boat Skeletons” is the only other song to incorporate a distorted wall of sound (save “Out,” of course), moving from its very own pirate sing-along to an unexpected and cathartic full-on expulsion of the entire album’s build to that point. That the chord progression is practically identical to highlight “The Swells” is moot; both use their repetitive music backings to create two very different, but equally appealing, melodies.
“She Said to Him” closes out the vocal section of Lighthouse Choir, and is sung by now-full-time-member Carolyn Lionais, who also adds a wealth of background vocals to many of the album’s better tracks (“Open Window,” especially). Her confident timbre and decidedly more straight-forward lyrics stick out quite a bit after the barely existent “Leave for Fifteen Years,” but Lionais’ voice carries the song over its weaker moments, coming to a beautiful close before “Out Out Out!” unleashes a nightmare that “The Open Arms of Waiting Waters” does its best to tame and make sense of.
We do get a fair range of material here—from post-rock to distorted freak-outs, a slew of acoustic ballads and even a pretty fucked up noise track—but with the band’s expansion, the inconsistent ability outlined here is finally brought into full colour, rendering many of its too-sparse arrangements (“Leave for Fifteen Years,” “Lighthouse Arms”) as irresistible as these studio versions of “Open Window” and “Weight, Worry.” With any luck, they’ll be able to capture this new-found chemistry with some consistency on their next record (which, according to their website, is titled Comin fortocarrryushometodeath, and is due in January), offering a more accurate recording of a band that is shaping up to become one of the East Coast’s most promising acts since Buck first pressed record.