by Ryan Doyle Elward
“Moving Pictures Silent Films” opens the first, self titled album for Great Lake Swimmers, while sixth album A Forest of Arms feels more like a soundtrack to a wordless film, with the music itself as the conversation of characters. An anthem for contemplation housed within a woodland setting. Should such an interpretation potentially ring out as too contrived, after all, always has their material bled nature and earthen themes into an aspect of their musical personality. Great Lake Swimmers have continually established a sense of rest and ease through this manner, delivered by breathy vocals nestled into a familiar blanket of folk and bluegrass.
And, unsurprisingly, just as each album previously has moved along the same plane stylistically, each seemingly different only in minor respects, A Forest of Arms does not stray far from other Great Lake Swimmers’ works. While the discussion changes within each album, the vessel remains constant, which makes for a series of albums that succeed in conveying various messages but is consequently not a unique method of delivery. Comfortable and predictable might also be fitting labels for this latest release, at least in reference to instrumentation.
Perhaps though, there is a kernel of justice done in this continuance, where making music so similar to an artist’s other work is simply out of pleasure and personal gratification. Reliability and consistency in this regard are important notions just so long as they are also enjoyable, and Great Lake Swimmers produce albums that are certainly enjoyable, if not for their trustworthiness. The idea of proving something in an album simply with novelty in contrast to the previous effort to represent progression seems to feed on a contemporary and flimsy desire just to show others that creating diverse and varied music is possible. Yet therein the entire cause might be muddled should that override the more basic need to convey a feeling or direction, which would seems the most important element of doing it at all. And in that is also something to be said for the success of doing a thing in a style long enough to be noticed for it, and done well, which maybe is not such an insult after all.