In the Northwest, we are familiar with darkness. We tend to be the types that straddle up next to it at the coffee shop and ask it to pass the sugar. We embrace it on the way out and tell it that we’ll see it soon. It seems like a rare trait, until Jon McKiel‘s new EP, Confidence Lodge, reminds us there are others out there who have found beauty in the dark.
McKiel has produced a dark and crackly record in the depths of another corner of the world: Nova Scotia, Canada. It tugs at the part of the soul that wants another gray sky day. It captures the forlorn tone of alt-country and melds it with the intensity of the best indie rock songs. Varied instrumentation adds subtle changes that keep the listener interested even if they can’t connect to the emotional tone.
The highlight of Confidence Lodge is the production. In terms of engineering, this EP is an amazing feat. Each layer is expertly placed and isolated, yet so important to conveying the emotional image; everything sounds impossibly real. A twinkle of piano and a constant swell of feedback in “Rupert May 18” provide perfect counterpoint to the lonely, rumbling bass and simple snare and bass drum rhythm. The song aches under a sparse vocal track in a relentless, heartbreaking march to the end–never distracted or annoyed by some effect or filter. In the hands of less talented producers, this track would have come off as melodramatic or boring.
McKiel intersperses these dirges with upbeat tracks such as “Motion Pictures.” The upbeat tracks still retain their dark character by using distorted leads (including ukulele), but have found some wonderful conflict between this grit and the cheer of a faster tempo. Minimalism is still the key and the songs lose none of their impeccable recording benefits. By juxtaposing these songs with his weightier material, McKiel challenges us to find something good about whatever darkness we may currently be battling. This record will undoubtedly be loved by those who, like Northwesterners, have found a way to find peace within this battle.