[Album Review] The Wooden Sky- Swimming in Strange Waters
Reader Rating: (5 Votes)

Release Date: April 7th, 2017
Label: Nevado Music

Swimming in Strange Waters, the latest album from The Wooden Sky, is the sound of survival, and trying to figure out how to go about living in an increasingly strange and difficult world. This is the band’s fifth full-length album, and their first since 2014’s Let’s Be Ready – an album that saw them start to transition away from their folk roots to an electrified rock and roll sound. On Swimming in Strange Waters, the band’s sound evolves once again, but this time, it’s a more lush and experimental sound, borrowing from Americana, 70s pop rock and even hints of psychedelic rock. This isn’t to suggest that it isn’t an instantly recognizable album from The Wooden Sky (and not only because of Gavin Gardiner’s distinct vocals), but it’s an album that sees the band venture out further into exploring new sounds.

Lyrically, this album showcases the band as very capable songwriters, with the ability to write poignantly and honestly, without being too obvious, on a number of themes both personal and political. On the title track, the band tackles some particularly heavy familial themes, with the refrain of “let every living thing shine a light on every living thing” offering a sort of catharsis.  “Swimming in Strange Waters” is a powerful way to open the album musically as well – showcasing the ability of the band to write songs that are essentially stadium-ready anthems. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the morose ballad “Born to Die” discusses mortality, and harkens back to the type of delicate folk ballads that the band is known for. Notably, the album also makes the political personal, with the haunting “Riding on the Wind” inspired by Gardiner’s work with Syrian refugee families. Similarly, the steady, rhythmic “Black Gold” is the Keystone XL protest song that we all need right now.

Musically, there’s a ton of stuff to be excited about on Swimming in Strange Waters. On the album’s standout (in my opinion) track “Deadhorse Creek”, the band combines harmonica, slide guitar and “whoa oh” choruses to culminate in a stomping Americana track that feels primed for their live set.  The tempo changes in “Life is Pain, Pain is Beauty” explore the quiet/loud dynamic, and Gardiner’s impassioned vocals implore you to “look around, look around” and take a hard look at humanity around you.  Finally, the string arrangement on “You’re Not Alone”, and on the chorus in particular, is a standout.

Swimming in Strange Waters is a standout record from The Wooden Sky, and an impressive one from a band that grows by leaps and bounds with every record.