Canadiana #6

It’s Labour Day weekend so I end the summer with a review of a band I heard for the first time this summer: Reuben and the Dark “Funeral Sky”

I’ll begin with a confession: I first heard this band on a commercial for Travel Alberta that was on TV. The soaring harmonies of “We go over the mountains and under the stars” caught my ears as beautiful scenes of the Rockies by starlight engaged my eyes. My 14 year old son already knew who the band was after some googling and played the entire song for me. I loved it and invested in the whole album. It used to be that artists did not want their music to be trivialized by being used in commercials but now it is a good way to get publicity. In this case, the band is actually from Calgary, Alberta and although the song is not really about praising the Alberta skyline, this line from the lyrics actually works with some authenticity as an invitation to experience the natural beauty of Alberta. I appropriately played it on the car stereo as we drove from Mount Robson through Jasper to Hinton, Alberta this summer.

This is a young band; the music and the production are raw but at least half the songs are innovative and memorable. What I really like is that Funeral Sky is almost a concept album held together by the majority of songs that contemplate various metaphors for death, dying, and the meaning of life with a melancholy musical mood to match. Although lead singer and writer, Reuben Bullock, may have left the revivalistic religion of his preacher father and has “taken his chances on the winding roads” he has no doubt been influenced by an upbringing that included Gospel music and a spiritual worldview. Musically, it is a fusion of atmospheric folk, some driving rhythms, Gospel sensibilities [lyrically and musically], and poignant vocal harmonies, all reminiscent of Mumford and Son, Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Great Lake Swimmers, or Coldplay. There are a variety of sounds and styles on the album but it hangs together well in a unified musical package that fits the lyrical theme.

There are a number of memorable songs on the album. Besides “Bow and Arrow,” the catchy soaring tune which opens the album and will always remind me of traveling in Alberta, my favorite song is “Devil’s Time.” It perhaps best captures the bleak but hopeful spiritual theme of the album.

I went walking on the Devil’s time

Oh, with nothing but shadow from the other side

Now don’t save my soul

I’ll take my chances on these winding roads

I’ll go wherever the wild wind blows

Cause if I’m gonna die, I wanna die an old ghost

“Marionette” continues the Gospel sound, opening with organ, stark lead vocals accompanied by Gospel choir echoes, then rising passionately with driving rhythms. “Can’t See the Light” is probably the most frenetic rock song with some starkly honest lines. My favorites of the ballads are the sensitive and layered “The River,” the haunting piano and vocal “Standing Still,” and “Black Water” which seems to be about a baptismal experience. “I found grace in the black water that bathed my soul.” These three faithfully continue the exploration of the album’s main theme: a spirituality of life and death. “Rolling Stone” is the chosen single and a decent pop song but for me it does not stand out as unique or memorable.

I don’t discover a lot of new favorite bands but Reuben and the Dark is my favorite Canadian band since I first heard Great Lake Swimmers more than five years ago. Their music has emotion, lyrical depth, and some catchy tunes.