It took a little longer than initially expected, but Ann Arbor quartet Gun Lake has finally released their debut album, Balfour, to the eager ears that fell in love with lead single “Cliffhanger” last November. And it was definitely worth the wait.
Since I last wrote here about Gun Lake, the band retooled its lineup a bit to include bassist Ben Collins along with the roster of lead singer/guitarist Mark Fain, guitarist/keyboardist Ryan O’Reilly and drummer Max Monson (the bass tracks heard on the album remain by former bassist Matt Roney). Together they infuse a magnificent richness into Fain’s songs, their vocal harmonies carrying the music just as strongly as the instrumentation. It speaks to their combined skills that of all the artists I’ve ever mass-recommended to people I know, I’ve never seen so many actually take my advice as they have for Gun Lake. Not only does Fain write music that is effectively flawless, but there’s a stunning diversity in its reach. All types of music fans can’t seem to resist sipping from this folk-pop grail.
“Cliffhanger” has been refined for the album, ushering in softer vocal layers than what we heard in November. Balfour’s minor notes combine for light melodies, bittersweet, like a field of brilliantly hued flowers blooming beneath a gray sky. Fain’s lyrics are fraught with drama, emotionally deep and at times cutting. In the nimble woodland waltz, “Trees,” he sings “Spring was just a lie/ the warmth never came” followed in a later verse with “My wishes a waste/ And you don’t want a taste/ Of what we promised ourselves.” The pain of romance is aptly conveyed in Fain’s words. It reaches the pinnacle of clarity during “Backwards” (which showcases perhaps the album’s most stunning bass line) as he cries out simply “I can’t do this anymore.”
Gun Lake’s music is so uniformly beautiful, it’s hard to pick a favorite song. One moment, you’re finding yourself enamored with the imagery of “Stormy Country,” the next, you’re dying over every sweet note of “I Gave Enough,” and later still you may reel over the delectable drums thudding through “June.” This is why Balfour succeeds so strongly as an album.
But you’ll probably find me getting lost in “Time Again” more than anything. The multiple vocals become an orchestra in themselves, adorned elegantly by their instruments. “Time Again” rises gradually, from a gentle opening to a brisk end, imploring “Don’t you remember who I am?/ I remember you.” At the very least, it’s clear Fain’s made a record that no one will be forgetting anytime soon ever.