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Album review: These Wicked Woods offers honest Cascadian folk-rock

The Archers have performed just about everywhere and been decorated for their precociousness.

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By Kier-Christer Junos (Community Contributor)

The Archers

The Archers’ steady career has shot past me twice. The first time was during my short-lived writing stint at Youthink Magazine in 2012, a publication that organized a competition won by the Archers; the second time was much later, at Café Deux Soleils in Vancouver, where, to my surprise, the Victoria-based folk-rock band was on stage to perform.

Since then, the Archers have performed just about everywhere and been decorated for their precociousness. And with the June 2014 release of their first studio album, These Wicked Woods, the Archers have shot me again. This time their sound is more holistic than anything I’ve experienced from the Archers before. These Wicked Woods listens easy and is extremely dynamic, from the romantic and explosive slow-step breakdowns to the little quavers in the vocals.

The album starts sparse with only vocals and vocal harmonies, comparable to the haunting work of Fleet Foxes, and expands from there. The thin-to-thick sonic theme that recurs throughout the entire album initially shows itself in the first song’s transition into “Consequences.” This song parallels and expands on the melody of the first song and plays loudly from the start. The entire album remains cohesive throughout because of this thin-to-thick motif. Prudently, the Archers don’t deviate.

When the album sounds “thin,” melodies are light-hearted and endearing. Active instruments hold back, and subsequently the vocals swell like a lullaby. When the album sounds “thick,” then hunger for something louder is sated, and this monumental sonic thickness makes the album. Stack soaring vocal harmonies with the endless wash of open hi-hats and crash cymbals combined with the powerful, linear expansiveness of strings, brass, and overdriven guitars, and what do you get? A fullness that sounds like millions of tonnes of water crashing. We’re talking some Michael-Bay-level shit here.

The Archers’ choice to frequently employ and layer vocal harmonies impressed me the most about this album, and this choice is the foundation that defines These Wicked Woods. It’s what makes the album sound full. From a production point of view, I find that vocal layering fills massive spaces in a song, and neglecting this choice would have nullified this album. Regardless, their lead vocalist sings expressively and dynamically, and succeeds in being a strong, singular presence. “Consequences” is my favourite example, as the lead vocalist belts, “it’s been so long, so fucking long.”

Conceptually, I feel the Archers wrote from a raw, earthy place. It’s like the album was written from the perspective of a hominid-gone-fauna, whose heart loves like a human, but whose heart is also made of Douglas firs and termites. The album, in its entirety song titles, literal sound, and even album artinvokes feelings of being in love, and being outdoors. Specifically, being in love outdoors in beautiful British Columbia.

The entire product is familiar to me. I’ve said it before about other BC bands like Derrival or Tommy Alto; the Archers possess the Cascadian sound unique to this part of  North America. Bigger bands like the Decemberists or Said The Whale have it too. The Cascadian sound is honest, romantic, and grandiose, and the Archers achieved this perfectly. It also helps that Canadian Tom Dobrzanski (the Zolas, We Are The City) and Roger Siebel (Broken Social Scene) helped produce These Wicked Woods. I think this most recent effort by the Archers’ is an easy addition to the roster of classic Cascadian albums that perpetuate this unique genre.

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