THE WILDERNESS OF MANITOBA with KITE HILL and THOMAS at Trinity St. Paul's Church (427 Bloor West), Friday (October 26), 7:30 pm, all ages. $18-$22. RT, SS, TB. See listing.
Island Of Echoes, the third offering from local folk-rockers the Wilderness of Manitoba, is a snapshot of a band in flux. Reflecting lineup changes and varied influences, the Pheromone release ranges from Rheostatics-like experimentation to intimate dream folk to Aral Sea/Southern Winds, which begins with balalaika and ends with a noisy synth solo.
This diversity could have something to do with the fact that the quintet, who say they were going for a contemporary take on a classic 70s/Fleetwood Mac sound, have spent the last few years on the road sharing stages with disparate acts like Aimee Mann, eight-piece Minneapolis experimentalists Cloud Cult and cello-driven Rasputina.
"We were away pretty much all of last year," says singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Will Whitham. "We'd come home for a week or two, then go again. Our label was in America, so we were constantly going over the border."
Touring is partly behind their shift to more prominent electric guitars and brisker bpms, especially on radio-friendly Echoes and A Year In Its Passing. But it also contributed in a bigger way, informing vocalist Melissa Dalton's decision to leave the band.
"We drove out to California, and I think that was when [touring's impact] hit everybody the most, because you see the landscape change," explains Whitham. "I remember getting into Boulder and thinking, ‘This is just the beginning, and we've been driving for four days.' It felt like longer."
WOM made their name with home-recorded albums and house concerts, and Island Of Echoes marks the first time the band recorded in a studio. (They did beds at Revolution Recording and overdubs at home.)
Various female vocalists came in to flesh out the four-part harmonies integral to the sound, including Elise Legrow and Felicity Williams. But with violinist Amanda Balsys, who also plays in Kingston's the Gertrudes, they forged a deep connection, even recording her song Yellow Yard for their Delaware House EP (a bonus download with pre-orders of the album).
Eventually they invited her to join.
"We've always loved each other's bands," says Whitham, "and [her voice] is kind of like a mom's in the 70s. You know, a Linda Ronstadt kind of tone. A very strong alto sound.
"We're really excited to do the next album, because instead of being in a transition phase, we'll be in a new band phase. New sounds, new ideas.
Maybe even have Balsys sing lead?
"Yeah, probably a lot."