“Fence”, the stage-setting track on Mark Andrew Hamilton’s latest album as Woodpigeon, speaks in the imagery of a storied North American geography. “Don’t fence me in/ Give me land, lots of land/ Stretching miles across the West” it yearns, repurposing sections of the Robert Fletcher poem (turned into song by Cole Porter in 1934) “Don’t Fence Me In”. The most obvious, literal reading is one of a desire for travel and space, but when Hamilton pleads “just cut me loose,” it momentarily re-frames this place “where the mountains meet the skies” as the terrain of a romantic break-up. Bending echoes of guitar call to mind an Ennio Morricone soundtrack in distant slow motion, drawing out the longing while adhering to theme.
T R O U B L E is the spinning overlapped image of both sides of that coin. In response to the dissolution of a relationship, Hamilton embarked on a kind of indie Eat, Pray, Love globetrot, landing in places like Istanbul, France and New York. The creative wheels began to turn while spending time in Buenos Aires, and picked up speed back in his native Canada, both in Vancouver and Calgary, his hometown. The album was then recorded in Victoria, B.C., and Toronto, with musician and producer Sandro Perri, who has played with Barzin and Great Lake Swimmers, and released records under both his own name and, before that, as Polmo Polpo.
The key differences between this album and its predecessor from 2013, Thumbtacks + Glue, mostly simmer under the surface. A cursory listen finds a familiar restraint in Hamilton’s throat-borne voice and unhurried tempos, with a few exceptions, such as the upbeat stomping, clapping, old fashioned R&B of the welcome surprise “Canada.” The otherwise pervading aura of gentleness can also be a bit misleading; T R O U B L E’s devils are in its details. At the heart of the album is “Faithful”, a spiraling admonishment that cuts deeper with each turn of the knife. Real-talk builds to accusation with a few choice word twists, as “Don’t be faithful/ If you’re not/ Don’t play grateful/ When it’s gone” becomes “Don’t act grateful/ When you’re not/ Don’t play faithful/ Once you’re caught”.
“Picking Fights” then contemplates the prolonged drain after such a conflict, when the end is clear, “Though,” the protagonist admits, “I don’t deep down want leave from you”. For a record whose soul is audibly weary, T R O U B L E has its own way of emphasizing physicality through the rhythm section. “Whole Body Shakes” stutter-steps along with a folk-funk bass line and increasingly antsy drumming. Circulating instrumental figures often give the album’s songs their shape, allowing the percussion to provide its own emotional clues with its patters and flurries, not unlike the way the Dirty Three used to swap the traditional roles of guitar and drums. “Rooftops” is as stormy a conclusion as Woodpigeon have come to, its muted feedback squalls indicative of the heightened unease behind the easy going exterior.