Jun 09, 2014
Reuben and the Dark: photo credit Lucia Graca
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Band stood out as a group of musicians unafraid to strike a diverse pose with a sound that was different from their rock n’ roll brethren. As music evolved through the following decades, that folkish style slowly faded into the background, even while a legion of fans still believed in its importance.
In days past, an act like Calgary’s Reuben and the Dark might have had a difficult time getting their music out to the masses. But thanks in part to artists like the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and Ray LaMontagne, who’ve all played a large part in bringing roots-inspired tunes back into the foreground, there has been a public reawakening and renewed appetite for this style of music. What once fell within the indie music ranks has now made its way back into the mainstream.
Since premiering two videos and two tracks in the lead up to their debut album, Funeral Sky, Reuben and the Dark have created a worthy buzz in Calgary and beyond the city limits. Featuring four multi-instrumentalists, and vocalists led by frontman Reuben Bullock and his brother, percussionist Distance, the 11 tracks on Funeral Sky draw from Reuben’s childhood as the son of a travelling preacher. From beginning to end, we are exposed to an open journal of thoughts, a diary of personal emotions. With its dark tone, Funeral Sky is apptly titled. weaving through scenes of spiritual and material struggles drawn from Reuben’s childhood, introspective lyrics, and songs sung like lamentations.
There is also an anthemic and atmospheric quality to the songs. Messages are driven home in a moody and chilling manner. When Reuben sings “I want you to fold my hands over my heart, and I want you to close my eyes when it grows dark” in “Bow And Arrow,” or, “I’m the same man now that I was when I changed” in “Standing Still,” we get a sense of that darkness but also a feeling of comfort and healing. It’s an interesting dichotomy that can be found throughout.
The album also features some subtle yet crisp instrumentation, and this plays an important role in completing the entire musical picture. A sombre trumpet here, a softly wailing organ and a hymn-like chorus there, all help to support the lyrics and to create the desired mood. Production work by Florence and the Machine drummer Christopher Lloyd Hayden and Stephen Kozmeniuk (Madonna, Nicki Minaj), set the tone, as well as the proper balance.
Hype can be a dangerous weapon. When the bar is raised and expectations are created for an album, there needs to be substance to back up the build-up. If not, a band is left standing on a high precipice with nothing to catch them during the inevitable fall. This is the challenge resting before Reuben and the Dark. With Funeral Sky , an album filled with inspiration, ambition and hope, Reuben and the Dark seem ready to celebrate the excitement and anticipation they’ve fostered, and ready to face the challenges that lie before them.
– Marvin Matthews