Before hearing a single note of his recordings, in 2013 I experienced the music of David Simard in a live setting, both solo and alongside compatriot singer-songwriters Jenny Berkel and Brie Neilson. It was mellow and pleasant, but as can be the case in a distractive festival scenario, there was too much occurring around me to fully engage with what was transpiring onstage. The ideal introduction would, of course, have been in an intimate club with a fully attentive audience, yet I still gleaned enough from Simard’s songs on the day to warrant an investigation into them after the fact. I am glad I followed up, because, on the evidence of his 2011 full-length debut, Slower, Lower, and the non-album singles that preceded it, it was apparent that the Vancouver-based Simard is a dab hand at crafting melancholy material, which is always going to draw my attention.
Five years on from Slower, Lower, and two removed from the interim, 4-song Lilies EP, Simard’s second full-length collection, The Heavy Wait, has arrived after being pieced together over eight years, and it’s a real spine-tingler. Nine of the eleven tracks are achingly slow, creating a tension which is only broken by the up-tempo country shuffle of The Guitar Player – appearing to be about a predatory groupie – and the easy swing of the environmentally concerned Good Clean Water. Otherwise, it is an atmospheric, brooding, and compelling collection of dark-yet-pretty folk songs that artfully wend their way into one’s brain, and lodge there.
Considering that most of The Heavy Wait was recorded in a single live studio session (in Farnham, Quebec, with subtle adornments later added in Paris and Vancouver), to pull off an album of funereally paced songs that keep the listener riveted is quite some achievement. To this end it reminds me greatly of a similarly hushed, slow and delicately performed masterpiece, World of Beauty (Bongo Beat, 2007) by fellow Vancouverite, Kevin House. The skilful sequencing undoubtedly has a big impact on the overall effect of both albums, but without such high-quality material that process would count for little.
Inhabiting the same realm as Nick Cave’s most intimate compositions, the opening cut, Cat’s Cradle, is a scene-setter, both sonically and lyrically. Several times on The Heavy Wait, Simard finds beautiful phrases to express emotional responses or situations, in this instance capturing how meeting someone special can help make everything negative in one’s life seem better, from quelling candy cravings to looking forward to, rather than dreading, the day ahead:
And it’s strange that ever since
I can wake without hate for the dawn
Elsewhere, the lyrics range from criticism of a pretentious, shallow clothes horse hipster (La Dee Da), to friendship, longing and loneliness, all housed in sparsely arranged, organic acoustic frameworks. It is entrancing stuff, made all the more delightful when, as in the beautiful 2 minute 18 seconds-short Said Too Much, Simard summons poetry such as this:
Those unspoken things – suspended
Freely between us with a knowing trust
Are the greatest intimacies
To inaudibly be
Pure and unconsummated
You should be getting an idea of The Heavy Wait from a musical and lyrical perspective, so to complete the picture Simard’s vocal timbre and phrasing bear echoes of Richard Hawley, so is very easy on the ear. Like Hawley, he has been labelled a crooner in some quarters, and that is spot on, as Simard’s delivery is always measured, never overcooked, but certainly dramatic and, I imagine, irresistible for those, like me, who appreciate quiet, introspective music with a touch of romance therein.
The Heavy Wait is available now via Bandcamp: davidsimard.bandcamp.com/album/the-heavy-wait
Photo Credit:Franck Alix