“Darling, is it time I let go?”
Who hasn’t felt this way in a relationship? That heart-wrenching moment of realization in the lives of two people, once so close and harmonious, now just…existing. Given this lingering malaise, it is no small coincidence that Silent Winter’s Fireworks & a Small Brigade is evocative of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Dangling Conversation”, though the two-part harmonies that Olenka Bastien and Jonathan Chandler share with their listeners are breathtaking in a way that is uniquely their own. These are two voices that seem destined to be melded, though each is fully formed and carries its own identity and timbre, creating a sense of a lived-in musical space.. Two-part harmonies are easy to do, but tricky to really pull off in a truly memorable way, an effect that is achieved to maximum effect here: each voice has that distinct quality where it sounds as though it is harmonizing with itself even before joining with the other. The minor key chord progressions that serve as a mostly spare backdrop — outside of the final song, “Counting Sheep Tonight”, the only one with any major instrumental arrangements — create an effective space over which the harmonies weave a tapestry of heartbreak, confusion and ennui.
There is an enormous breadth of depth within Fireworks & a Small Brigade’s songs. The way in which the two vocalists sing the ascending words “come home” in “Time I let Go” emphasizes the absurd difficulty in maintaining a relationship where the thrill is seemingly gone. Meanwhile, “Julia” tells the story of the haunting presence of the dark side of childhood reminiscence: the titular woman seems to be a character out of the past, the subject of a trauma so deep that it stings the imaginations of those who wrote the song in her honor. The effect on the listener is deeply unsettling. Lyrics such as “This heart of mine is breaking forever in my mind” and “We’ve all told a lie just to get through the night” are endlessly relatable by way of a fine aged scotch or a childhood scrapbook.
Through these and all their songs, these vocalists take their cues from the rich harmonic tradition of the Everly Brothers, David Crosby and Graham Nash, the aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel, and the Indigo Girls. They add to this massive oak tree with what feels like a uniquely Canadian blend, lending the loon on the lake and the frost on the grass to the proceedings and forging their own identities within. Even the “oooh”s and “ahhhh”s sound as though they are being delivered on a bed of feathers, with the sublime “Sweet Lullaby” emerging as particularly entrancing (see the sublime “Sweet Lullaby”). “Counting Sheep Tonight” sheds some brief light on what these two exceptionally gifted musicians might have to offer should they decide to expand their sonic palette to include more arrangement and instrumentation, and it is the mark of Silent Winters’ brilliance that it is unclear which direction offers a more enticing brew.
This is the crux of Silent Winters’ music, as they convey the thoughts and emotions of each song with a sparseness that underlines each and every lyric. It is easy to fall in love with the melodies and the harmonies, yet like any other deep-seated relationship, the music becomes ingrained in such a way that it has the potential to stay with you forever: lamplit nights, tomato soup on a silent winter’s night, thoughts racing to a place familiar but still in need of a map to get there. You need to get there, even though it’s a hard, hard place, and you may not even necessarily want to go there. But when you do, music like this provides direction and comfort along the journey.
You can purchase this beautiful album for yourself here, and be sure to check out their website and give them a follow on Facebook. Mark your calendars and catch these Canadian Folk Music Award Nominees live at The Cheshire Cat Pub on Friday November 3rd at 9pm for $15.