This review was originally published at GoldFlakePaint.
Imbued with the smoky sorrow of a poet who was burned in love, Gun Lake’s debut album “Balfour” shares the wanderings and struggles of Mark Fain, the lead singer and lyricist behind the project. However, a more in-depth examination is required of a record as delicately wrinkled and sorrow-tinged as Balfour.
I first saw Gun Lake play at CMJ in September, where he played with a full band. Due to the versatile nature of the music industry however, this is not the same band that are recorded on the album. I was blown away, during the live performance I was really blown away by the entire band. I can’t say enough about the bassists work on each track, both musically and vocally. Bassist Macklin Underdown is also the mastermind behind his own musical project called fthrsn (father son) which, though completely different from Gun Lake, you should definitely check out. Drummer Peter Felsman also took some critical moments during that performance and turned them into mountain-top experiences with his precisely dramatic drumming.
Having said that, the work on the album is equally killer. Ryan O’Reilly adds stunning harmonies to Fain’s already compelling voice on songs like ‘Backwards’ and ‘Cliffhanger’ the complexity of these vocal relationships really shine.
This is the type of album in which each song functions perfectly on its own, but somehow, through the combination of each track strung along to the next, a true musical landscape is created. This is a landscape of sorrowful harmonies sung with loving precision, melodic heartbreaks that caress the listener’s ears.
Perhaps the piece de resistance is the song ‘Really Something’ that comes late in the album and marks a tempo change into an upbeat, (but still sad) register. I have never heard an exultantantly bitter song before, but the result is, well, really something.
Fain’s song-writing strength truly lies in his ability to combine the simple elements of our physical surroundings with his deepest feelings. To write songs dedicated to the moments that become embroidered on our hearts. ‘Stormy Country’ is a perfect example of this, as getting caught in a simple storm becomes the synthesis of a romantic encounter worthy of Heathcliff & Cathy.
It is hard for me to name more specific tracks, as I really think the entire album is a stunning piece of work, and should be experienced as a whole. All in all, this record has been a treat for me this year, as it is yet undiscovered. I can’t wait to say I can triumphantly say “I told you so!” when Gun Lake achieves their proper and deserved place as end-of-the-year-list toppers.