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Nervous Guia Cortassa , February 3rd, 2015 14:02

When the second Siskyou album came out in October 2011, an accompanying statement appeared on their website: "Siskiyou is not a folk band. Sure, behind the distinct shiver of Colin Huebert's whisper/wail you'll hear pleasantly plucked acoustic guitars, banjos, slide guitars, and gently brushed drums. But listen closer — there's something more sinister here, in the sound, in the words." Though it may sound obvious listening to the band's latest work, Nervous, at the time Huebert and his bandmates (Erik Arnesen — also a Great Lake Swimmer — Peter Carruthers, Shaunn Watt and Andrew Lee) still indulged in winter-long songwriting sessions locked up in some secluded ancient building in British Columbia. The band, born in 2010 from a Great Lake Swimmers' rib after drummer Colin Huebert left to go working on a farm, was still struggling to emancipate from the mild sound of the former group to the "Northern Gothic" style they wanted to achieve.

Four years have passed since Siskiyou released Keep Away The Dead. In the meantime, Huebert, the band's singer and songwriter, found himself diagnosed with hyperacusis — an inner ear disease that makes the afflicted intolerant to determined environment sounds — while on a songwriting residency in Yukon in 2012. This new condition caused the musician severe anxiety and panic attacks, and the impossibility of feeling a relief with traditional medicine made him turn to meditation and silence to try and soothe his pain, moving his attention from the outside world towards himself.

This introspective turn resonates loud in Siskiyou's new album. Despite the fact all the new songs were rehearsed and recorded at low volumes, Nervous finally sets the record straight on the Canadian group's intents. Setting banjos and bonfires aside, the folk roots are now replaced by a rich baroque pop accompanying a dark ride inside Huebert's mind. All the distress and anguish felt by the singer are clear from the very beginning, with his broken voice pleading "please don't go/Why do you float away?" over a pressing bass line and the unsettling backing vocals provided by children from the St. James Music Academy Senior Choir in the opening track 'The Deserter'. The tension loosens up a bit in the following track, 'Bank Accounts And Dollar Bills (Give Peace A Chance)', repeating as a mantra in a soft whisper "This is the life we have to live/so give peace a chance," taking the famous slogan the furthest possible from its original Ono-Lennon meaning, translating it in a search for some peace of mind.

In support of their basic four-piece line-up, this time Siskiyou have brought Owen Pallett onboard to play strings in this new sonic venture, as well as saxophonist Colin Stetson and Leon Taheny (who has worked with Pallett and Austra before) to the production and mixing. The path to a majestic chamber pop sound couldn't have been clearer, thanks to the aid of Tamara Lindeman's smooth backing vocal in tracks like the aforementioned 'Bank Accounts And Dollar Bills (Give Peace A Chance)', or 'Violent Motion Pictures'.

There's a thin thread linking, during the 43 minutes of the record, the frantic post-punk of Joy Division to Pulp's art-rock (unmistakably in 'Imbecile Thoughts') and Tindersticks, although the album hasn't any blatant European taste, thus giving a new, sophisticated jolt to the already full acoustic texture. There are no more monsters of the mountains for Siskiyou to fight, or worm-eaten fruits: as in the Rorschach test's inkblot that the artwork recalls. All the demons are now those of the mind, and it's up to anyone to decipher and defy them.

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