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First Play: The Wooden Sky, Swimming in Strange Waters

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Holly Gordon

The anticipatory opening buzz on “Swimming in Strange Waters” is not for nothing — the full-on stadium rocker that follows spins you right around and around, finally catching you in its ending refrain, “Let every living thing shine a light on every living thing.”

It’s a hell of a way to open an album — giving it all you’ve got in the first four minutes and 56 seconds — but with Swimming in Strange Waters, the Wooden Sky proves it can set a blistering standard, be true to its heart and stay the course — no matter the waters.

Bandmates Gardiner, Simon Walker (multi-instrumentalist), Andrew Wyatt (multi-instrumentalist), Edwin Huizinga (violinist) and Andrew Kekewich (drummer) recorded their demos for the album in a farmhouse in rural Quebec three Januarys ago, then took a year-long break to tour. Coming back to the songs in March 2016, they decided not to rework things, instead recording the album takes in Gardiner’s home studio, live off the floor — just as they had the demos. What wasn’t recorded in Gardiner’s studio was done in Montreal’s Hotel2Tango and a Toronto church, all mixed by John Angello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile).

The finished product is a pulsing set of songs, alive with an energy that slows on ballads like “Born to Die” and fills out on the twangy “Matter of Time.” The hope in Gardiner’s voice as he sings “You’re not alone” on the track of the same name softens the lyrical blow of lines like, “Life is long and love is strange/ with any luck our luck could change.” But the strings on the song are enough of a buoy, as you fall in love all over again — with your person, and this band.

Swimming in Strange Waters is powerful and delicate — an album to both listen to and draw from for years to come.

Swimming in Strange Waters will be released April 7. Pre-order it here.