Great Lakes Myth Society
Compass Rose Bouquet
Great Lakes Myth Society>Quack!
he shape of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula bears resemblance to a mitten, which birthed the rather amusing practice of natives pointing to a spot on their upturned right hand when prodded about their hometown. The 2005 self-titled debut of Great Lakes Myth Society (who hail from Ann Arbor; it’s located at the base of the thumb) was that mittened hand playfully slapping folk-rock on its pasty white ass: roots music birthed in a tar paper shack, then aggressively honed in Dad’s oil-slicked garage. During the accompanying tour, the quintet played gigs with a lantern on stage; Roman candle pyrotechnics would have been more fitting.
But it was GLMS’ Michigan-centric lyrics that gave the bloggers hypertext hard-ons, the record earning frequent, favorable comparisons to Sufjan. Wolverine State-inspired poesy aside, these were two vastly different albums. Stevens used Michigan as merely a setting for his shrouded-in-sable explorations of human despair: Michael Moore’s rabbit-eaters in Flint; the Magic Kingdom-inspired people movers in Detroit shuffling about that city’s aimless; grey, cultureless Yoopers from the Upper Peninsula. On GLMS, Michigan was buffed and beatified, its rich folklore transforming the state into an idyllic slab of white pine forest and redbrick factory yard. It all came together rather perfectly in a line from “Pining, Drinking, Understanding”: “Why cry / When you can be in Michigan on Halloween?”
Well, on Compass Rose Bouquet, GLMS is no longer rooted in Michigan—on Halloween night or otherwise. And that’s certainly worthy of a tear or three. A band that once evoked their state’s adolescence—back when the only way to cross the Straits of Mackinac was by ferry or when large swaths of Detroit were prairie, not urban prairie—now evokes themes like standard male adolescence. Like James Christopher Monger’s Shins-soundalike “Midwest Main Street,” lacking in lyrical explicitness and resorting to stock imagery in detailing youthful, small-town wreckage: sweeties turned to junkies, old ghosts, “dead” friends. The featherless, pining emotion in “March” is as bruised as the violet-and-blue portrait it describes. And in Timothy Monger’s “Heydays,” listless lines such as “Heydays are passing / Your house has been rented several times over / By prettier girls” are delivered over languid guitar, bass, and drums. Heydays are passing . . . yes, so apt.
Sonically, GLMS have also derogated from their previous effort. Much like a person in Michigan is never more than 85 miles from a Great Lake, the band’s debut was always within close proximity to its raucous folk roots. Here, the folk touches are more furtive—the dapples of banjo in “March,” the mandolin-rimed “Days of Apple Pie”—much of the wattage coming from plumped layers of acoustic and electric guitar. This approach does produce a few highlights: “Summer Bonfire,” with its exuberant shouts of “Hey boys!” and “Hey girls” over strummed acoustic guitar, calling teenaged yearlings to gather round a crackling, sand pit pyre; “Queen of the Barley Fool” and its booze-dripping electric lines; and the Decemberists-inspired slowburner “The Gales of 1838,” a red wine-pinked maelstrom of benders and bootlegging, complete with a sure to be sing-a-long favorite at gigs: “So I’ve had wine and wine and wine and more wine tonight.”
Melody Maker’s Chris Charlesworth once wrote, “If rock emerged as the frustrated sound of the city, then Southern rock and roll has left the frustrations behind.” Compass Rose Bouquet has been slapped with a regional-inspired tag of its own, “Northern rock,” but does comes with its share of frustration: it’s that rare sophomore endeavor that leaves you wishing the band had simply rehashed its stellar debut.