There’s so much good music coming out of Canada at the moment I’m starting to think there’s something in the maple syrup and the latest release from The Wooden Sky adds considerable weight to this waffle-based theory. Let’s Be Ready is the fourth album from the Toronto-based group and it signals a shift: it’s goodbye acoustic control and hello electric chaos. The band wear this more raucous sound well and existing fans shouldn’t be too thrown, as in all other respects they are still recognisable.
For the uninitiated, frontman Gavin Gardiner’s vibrato-heavy vocal is somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz. This suits the whole vibe of Let’s Be Ready, which was recorded using fully live takes with, as is the fashion, the reverb set to ‘big cave’. The shimmering guitar parts play a massive role in shaping the album, with Gardiner’s delicate fingerpicking supercharged (rather than obliterated) by guitarist Simon Walker’s overlaying of heavier lines. The latter’s playing sounds out-of-control but of course is anything but; reminiscent of The Posies’ Jon Auer, at his peak.
The record charges out of the starting gates with the jangling guitars and pounding drums of ‘Saturday Night’. Think Kings Of Leon with a hungover The Edge on guitar. It’s a superbly catchy and uplifting tune, but for a band with serious geek credentials it is dangerously close to being what I would call stadium rock. ‘Our Hearts Were Young’ sees the band check themselves for the misdemeanour and they gaze firmly at their shoes for the duration of its shy, lazy shuffle before going all Beach Boys on us with the irresistible ‘Baby Hold On’, which is enrobed in lush BVs and reverbed 1950s guitars. These first three tracks display The Wooden Sky’s breadth of capabilities and are a perfect introduction to the band for new listeners. Another pumping toetapper, ‘When The Day Is Fresh & The Light Is New’, then gives way to the album’s centrepiece, ‘Kansas City’, which is cinematic, yearning and Springsteeny in all the right ways.
The Wooden Sky’s folk pedigree is glimpsed with the gentle picking and violin of ‘Write Them Down’ which, complete with softly beaten drums, is a perfect study in understatement. Then blam! the single ‘Maybe It’s No Secret’ arrives like the cool kid at the party and showers us with its delay-drenched guitars, unstoppable energy and indelible chorus. It’s unashamedly commercial but still ragged and real. This song alone is the reason you should go out and catch them on their imminent UK tour.
If ‘Maybe It’s No Secret’ was the party, then ‘Shake For Me’ feels a little like the morning after. A close, crumbling lead vocal starts it off all laid back and sultry but with growing washes of guitars it slowly builds to force-ten catharsis, with an extended guitar outro. This hypnotic and repetitious workout had me bouncing around my kitchen with glee but suddenly they draw things to a halt, just seconds before anyone can say “prog!” in an accusatory tone of voice.
When they finally do switch off the amps and pick up acoustic guitars for the spare and fragile title track, the dynamic shift is all the more powerful. ‘Let’s Be Ready’ settles us down nicely for the hazy easy-going Van Morrisonisms of album closer ‘Don’t You Worry About A Thing’, which made me feel like breaking out some early Wallflowers albums and taking a nap.
Leaving aside The Wooden Sky’s fine songcraft, one of the best things about this record is that it has a really good shape to it, in the way that good physical albums always used to in a time before YouTube and Spotify smashed everything into little bits. Thanks to deft arrangements and thoughtful track sequencing, as a listener you feel like you’ve been on a journey with the band and shared in the highs and lows. It’s not often enough that these sorts of thing are so well considered and Let’s Be Ready is so much richer for it. Let’s all move to Canada...
Review by Rich Barnard.