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First Play: The Olympic Symphonium, Beauty in the Tension

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Holly Gordon

Having four distinctive songwriters in a band sounds like something that could easily go awry after a few years. But after counting 13 years as a band, current bandmates Nick Cobham, Kyle Cunjak, Dennis Goodwin and Graeme Walker are tighter than ever, creating space for each other as the Olympic Symphonium. And on the Fredericton folk-pop quartet’s new album, Beauty in the Tension, the nod to that equilibrium is right in the title.

The tension on this fifth full-length isn’t fraught; it’s a delicate balance of styles and sounds that the Olympic Symphonium steers between folk, rock and country influences without making the transitions abrupt or unwelcome. When they recorded it last winter over six days at the Old Confidence Lodge in Riverport, N.S., they also enlisted vocals from Nova Scotia’s Jennah Barry and additional instrumentation from Michael Belyea (Jenn Grant), Tim Crabtree (Paper Beat Scissors) and composer Drew Jurecka. All the pieces come together for a beautiful listen.

The slow drum beat into the opening track, “Coat of Arms,” leads to a subtly harmonized song that questions family origins — “When drawing a coat of arms/ what do we include?” asks Walker, before answering, “The face of a nation/ the nation is you.” “Glory of Love,” the followup track by Cunjak, is a meandering ode to Chicago’s power ballad of the same name, though the Olympic Symphonium original is a twangy, detailed list of travels far from home (a world of “primary colours and secondary hues”).

“In With the Camera” is a mid-album instrumental that forces a much appreciated slow-down before heading into the post-party slink of “Lost in the Party” (“The candles are out but the smoke remains/ there's icing smeared on the window panes,” sings Goodwin). The final song is a bit deceptive, as the quartet starkly sings the track’s title, “Choral Voices,” together before the finger-picking comes in at nearly the minute-mark, and a nod to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” emerges. Each song is a disparate part, adding to a whole that makes complete sense.

It’s been nearly four years since the last Olympic Symphonium album, though there’s no questioning the time that’s passed: Cobham, Cunjak, Goodwin and Walker are busy people, running Fredericton’s Shivering Songs winter festival as well as their respective lives (Cunjak runs Forward Music Group, a label that just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and he's also been touring as part of David Myles' band).

That space between albums is more reason to spend some long winter nights with Beauty in the Tension — it’s with repeated listens that you’ll uncover all of its nooks.

Beauty in the Tension will be released on Feb. 9. Pre-order it here.