Album review

The North Sound – As the Stars Explode

Photo by Mark Allard-Will of North Sask Music Zine

As the Stars Explode, the second full-length album from The North Sound, brings 11 new songs (plus spoken word intro and outro) from Saskatchewan-based singer-songwriter Forrest Eaglespeaker.  Currently comprising Forrest and vocalist/partner Nevada Freistadt, The North Sound is an idea more than a band, the idea being to bring into focus personal songs born of searching and wandering and wondering.

Having crossed countless bridges in his 27 years, Forrest channels those experiences into an earthy blend of country, pop, rock, and folk that crosses all these boundaries.  Personal experiences with grief and substance abuse are woven into upbeat pop, as in the reflective “Better Days,” where the opening stanza “I hit the ground running, I’ve been to hell and back, I’ve had my loved ones taken, and I felt my spirit crack” is ultimately resolved without resignation in the coda “only time will tell, and that’s ok, I’m doing better, these days.”  Although occasionally incongruous, the blending of upbeat music with stark imagery and painful emotion provides some intrigue to the music.

Forrest has noted influences from Ryan Adams, Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, and Robbie Robertson, although these are not expressed explicitly in the music but provide an underlying thread.  The album shifts from modern country rock that wouldn’t be out of place blaring to the grandstand at the Calgary Stampede into more subtle folk-rock carried on pop melodies.  The crisp, bright acoustic guitars driving many of the tracks provide a backbone for catchy melodies, as in “Between The Ditches” and “Shed A Little Light,” both of which stem from older recording sessions as far back as November 2018.  But the material shines brightest when the vocals are the focus, as on “My Happiness.” Nevada’s backing and harmonies are exceptional, punctuating the emotion in the lyrics and giving depth to each piece.

It’s easy to see that the songwriting of Forrest will continue to improve.  His sensibility and ease with a turn of phrase provide hints of what is to come, whether mining the riffs for hit country rock songs or stretching the writing towards the influences he cites.  On “This Land,” we get a picture of what that might look like as he approaches the subject of his indigenous heritage and how that fits in the larger context of land rights.  But the giant leap will come when he moves from singing of his personal experiences towards conveying what he thinks about those experiences and how they shape and create a shared fabric.

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