[Album Review] West My Friend- When the Ink Dries
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by Mark Anthony Brennan
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Release Date: March 6th, 2014
Label: Grammar Fight Records

West My Friend are the quintessential Victoria band. They are friendly, personable, well-educated, liberal-minded, funny, environmentally conscious and they lean towards indie folk. And then there’s that je ne sais quoi – the thing that sets them apart, that makes them unique – let’s call it their quirkiness.

What makes them quirky? Is it the fact that they feature the unlikely combination of stand-up bass, mandolin, accordion and acoustic guitar (no drums)? Or is it their lyrics, which are always engaging if somewhat impenetrable at times? Then again, is it lead singer Eden Oliver’s beautifully clear voice that floats up to the high notes and back again with seemingly little effort? Or perhaps it’s the way they take a song with an unconventional structure, changes in time signatures and changes in musical styles, and somehow make it sound as easy to relate to as a nursery rhyme? Maybe, just maybe, it’s all of the above.

WMF’s second full-length album, ‘When the Ink Dries’, is an exercise in subtlety (par for the course with these guys) so their quirkiness is not always on full display. The title track, in fact, could throw you off because it is the most straightforward indie folk number on the record. When you get to “The Tattoo That Loved Her Anyway”, however, you get a better idea of what makes WMF special (how about that title for starters?). It starts off with some vaguely French-sounding accordion work followed by a smattering of mandolin and then we are into the song. Oliver sings sweetly about a woman who is lonely but at the same time is describing her tattoos (“Green for the envy that rises in her gut/And a pink blush as a betraying hue/Purple and blue for how she misses you/Each memory is a bruise of its own”). That’s all very fine but then suddenly the pace of the song switches and the boys are chanting, “Paisley plaid polka dots and stripes/Pinstripes tweed and corduroy,” in chamber choir style. That’s different. That’s quirky. That’s West My Friend for you.

The balance of the tracks on the album are variations on this theme, from the lovely “Missing You” to the mournful “Thin Hope”, and from the whimsical “Baleen Whale” to the bluesy “”Troubles”. That is not to say that there is anything boring or repetitive here – although there is an overall cohesiveness to the album’s sound, that does not equate to “sameness”. “The Cat Lady Song”, for example, is an miniature musical rollercoaster all of its own, featuring a number of tempo changes, as well as changes in style and tone. It’s like a seven minute Broadway musical.

‘When the Ink Dries’ is one of those Victoria gems that, on the one hand, is nice to keep as a local secret but, on the other hand, is deserving of a much wider audience.