Siskiyou Siskiyou

[Constellation; 2010]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: folk, singer-songwriter
Others: Chad Vangaalen, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Great Lake Swimmers

Siskiyou is a collaborative project between Canadian musicians Colin Huebert, formerly of Great Lake Swimmers, and Erik Arnesen, who still plays with that group. Their name comes from a coastal mountain range that stretches from southwestern Oregon into northern California and is home to what is likely the world’s only Bigfoot trap. The cover of their self-titled debut features a heart-wrenching portrait of the Sasquatch on its cover. Rendered in beautifully colored crayon, the legendary loner appears unusually humanoid. His features are worn; his eyes are mournful and weary; and what might at first sound like a tossed-off, goofy idea for a record cover is in fact a perfect, poignant emblem for the collection of songs at hand.

Siskiyou’s music is built primarily around Huebert’s songwriting and acoustic guitar compositions. Apparently, the project began with a surplus of raw solo material he recorded, often by putting songs to tape not long after they were written. As the thought of an album took shape, the duo chose selections from that output to expand upon with more elaborate ornamentation. The benefits of that process are collected in the emotional immediacy and palpable earnestness that are the record’s hearthstones. Lyrically, Siskiyou is a dark, desperate document that, though it has a certain tenderness and warmth about it, deals largely with mortality, doubt, vehemence, and resignation. While its musical means are fairly traditional — guitar, banjo, piano, voices, and assorted percussion — they’re played with economy and conviction, and Huebert’s strained vocal delivery imbues each track with a bittersweet magic uniquely his own.

Siskiyou also succeeds on the strength of its production. Recorded entirely by Huebert and Arnesen at a number of different locations, without the benefit of a proper studio, every sound on the record is captured with astounding crispness. The mixes are impeccably clear and spacious, and the duo gets an incredible amount of dynamic mileage out of smart, subtle choices. It isn’t difficult to hear that a great deal of care and consideration went into the process.

When the record falters, it’s for lack of development. Huebert’s songwriting style is often very simple, and he tends to establish a theme or progression on a track and stick to it. On songs with more lyrical interest, dynamic instrumental arrangements, and outright energy (“Funeral Song,” “Never Ever Ever Ever Again,” “Everything I Have”), that tendency never feels like much of a hindrance. But some of the longer, slower tracks tend to feel like they linger too long without direction, while some of the shortest are never given much chance to get their footing and achieve real vitality. Even when Siskiyou feels like a bit of a sketchbook, though, it’s easy to see a strong vision emerging from this collection and even easier to forgive music this unassuming. These songs don’t consistently stun, but when the duo strikes gold, it’s truly a treat.

Links: Siskiyou - Constellation

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