Personnel: Ben Crum (vocals, guitar); Suzanne Nienaber (vocals); Heather McIntosh (cello); Joe McGinty (keyboards); Kevin Shea (drums).
Audio Mixer: Steve Silverstein.
Less than a minute into 2016's Wild Vision, the fifth full-length album from Great Lakes, group leader Ben Crum and bandmate Suzanne Nienaber join their voices and sing, "I say fare thee well/To all of trouble, to all of care/Let's breathe the purer air/All the old sadness won't be there." However, it's not hard to get the feeling they're fibbing a bit; Wild Vision doesn't wallow in despondency from beginning to end, but it hardly sounds cheerful either, with most of the songs drifting by in a solemn midtempo as drummer Kevin Shea stirs the soup at a deliberate pace. It's been a long time since Crum has been involved with the Elephant 6 collective, and it makes sense that Wild Vision has little to do with his previous off-kilter pop; in 2016, his music has everything to do with moody but melodic visions with a country undertow brought to the surface by judicious use of acoustic guitars, mandolins, and pedal steel. Lyrically, disappointment seems to be a common thread in these songs, though Crum's approach is often impressionistic enough that literal meanings take a back seat to tone, and the tone of this material hardly sounds like Crum's characters are doing well in life. (And the gloomy, murmuring singsong of his voice, recalling Seth Tiven of Dumptruck on a sad day, does nothing to enliven the tunes.) From a musical standpoint, Wild Vision feels like a fine rainy-day listen, full of dour but subtly satisfying melodies performed with a gentle touch by Crum and his accompanists, and it's a shame that the leader's lyrics and vocals aren't as consistently pleasing as the rest of this set, though since six years separated Wild Vision and Great Lakes' previous album, Ways of Escape, fans are most likely happy that Crum is still delivering new music at all. ~ Mark Deming
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