Siskiyou – Siskiyou

January 01, 1970



These debut songs from former Great Lake Swimmers’ member
Colin Huebert arrive like half-heard transmissions from a winter whiteout, offering
just enough musical light and warmth to keep the thematic frost at bay. Siskiyou‘s lyrics may revolve around
existential doubt – “That’s the last time that I will stand on my own two
feet/Again,” goes the walk-off line to “We All Fall Down” – but Huebert and his
bandmates (current GLS member Erik Arnesen and Karolyn Keir) strip these 11
songs down to such austere acoustic guitar/voice/minimal percussion frameworks
that they wind up getting maximum mileage from minimal accents. The warm
embrace of an accordion, an uplifting horn chart or Flamenco-flavored castanets
mix with an occasional upbeat tempo, graceful waltz or comic line to illuminate
these miniatures with essential shafts of salving light. The music’s warmth also
derives from being self-recorded and overdubbed in hallways, stairwells,
bathrooms and parks throughout the band’s hometown of Vancouver.  


Those warming contrasts make these songs sound as Southern
in places as they do Northwestern in others; at times, Siskiyou recalls early
Phosphorescent before Matthew Houck discovered Muscle Shoals. Huebert might
even double for Houck on disc-opener “Funeral Song,” which ambles forward as
though suffering heat prostration until the castanets, tambourine and maniacal
“ha-ha-ha” chorus turn the processional into more of a drunken-fever wake. On
“Everything I Have,” a bouncing beat, half-demented strumming and trumpet
blasts serve the strain of humor running through Huebert’s ambiguous declaration
of emotional war: “You are my enemy/With this single stone, I’m throwing everything
I have at you/But you are my everything/With this single stone, I’m giving you
everything I have to you.” That sense of equivocation runs through “Pull It
Away,” too, a deliberate waltz built on back-porch banjo, solemn piano and double-bass
that provides a simple foundation for Huebert’s lyrical sigh of resignation here:
“I have a wound that never will heal/You are the one that constantly peals/The
skin away each and every day….peel it away, peel it away, peel it away.”


Not all the accents are leavening; when electric guitars and
feedback get injected into the mix, they suffuse the brief “Useless Anymore” and
Hayden-like shuffle “Never Ever Ever Again” with ominous portents. Feedback
also provides eerie song-long accompaniment for Siskiyou’s wicked
reconstruction of the Woody Guthrie folk classic, “This Land Is Your Land”
(simply titled “This Land” here). Just as they did with their free digital
download of Simon & Garfunkel’s “El Condor Paso,” Siskiyou gives the song a
sinister makeover, warping Guthrie’s hopeful, progressive rallying
cry-landscape into a barren vista befitting a crumbling empire where promise is
a thing of the past. So, yes, the outlook is far from rosy on Siskiyou, as doubt and fear pervade the
relationships – with friends and lovers, with the environment, even with his sanity
and mortality – that Huebert chronicles and even pokes fun at on occasion. But
by embracing the darkness, these emotionally direct songs offer beauty enough
to get through their cold and lonely winters. 


It Away” “This Land” JOHN SCHACHT



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