Fronted by Brendan McLeod and Adrian Glynn, with Carly Frey on violin and banjo player Chris Suen, in many ways the folksy quartet are Vancouver’s answer to Darlingside. No Help Coming is their sixth album and one that takes climate emergency as its core concern. It opens a capella with the brief gospel sounding ‘(No Help)’ before banjo introduces and carries along ‘Edge of the Sea’ which balances the threat that “Our homes are losing ground to the edge of the sea” and denial (“Bells sound in the street, still no one believes”) with a resolution to dig in and fight (“I hate to use a hammer but I’m fresh out of choice/No one’s making time for the sound of a voice”). You might hear a hint of Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ on the refrain “Where’s my love in all of this?”
The strummed ‘It Might Just Rain Like This For Days’, featuring Sally Zori on drums and another rippling banjo riff from Yuen, leans towards hope, summed up in the chorus line “it might just rain like this for days, but there’s shelter in the way we see it through”, and the theme of everyone pulling together, interwoven with an ambivalent love song (“When the weather breaks I’m on my way to you/I said I’m dyed in the wool to be dark in the head/It’s like the closer you get the further I bend away/From you”).
Carried on a chugging strum with Frey’s fiddle offering soaring solo, ‘Story Of Our Times’, the first written for the album is about someone who, despite knowing it will make things tough, consciously opts out of a destructive lifestyle (“I’m tired of hunger, but it sure beats giving up/I went along until the walls went up/I was chained to all that, but that’s not who I am anymore”), that slips in a line about military oppression (“He said they’d pass right through, I knew what would happen/Last I heard he’d taken every oath/From our door the soldiers come and go”) and a warning about not taking things seriously (“You can laugh all day but I wouldn’t keep it up/Run on hope, you’ll die living on luck”)
The campfire folky ‘(Simple Song)’ is one of several snippets that punctuate the album, leading into the bassline anchored ‘Ash’, about how terrible things can still have an aesthetic beauty, such as the sight of tracer fire at night, here, with dappled banjo and aching fiddle and a rhythmic lurching chug, about the deceptively tranquil sight of ash from wildfires falling from the sky like snow on a winter’s evening.
Unaccompanied harmonies open the falsetto-sung ‘Wing And A Prayer’ which addresses how so many are tied to jobs that are bad for the climate, of the stress that can put on relationships and finding the courage to put planet before self (“I woke up in disarray, drowning in a tidal wave/Of dreams that made me proud/The thrill of working overtime trapped me like a valentine/Oh, I was living loud/Is there nothing I can say to you now/Love, I’m waiting for the sky to fall”) and a call to “bring me home to the Neverending/And we’ll keep the flame between our palms”.
It rolls into another snippet, just 21 seconds, ‘(Impending Doom)’, recorded as a voice memo by Glynn on his phone while driving, is about the silence around the climate crisis and how nobody wants to talk about it. That’s then followed then by the title track, jaunty Byrdsian folk rock in the style of ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’, a playful apocalyptic ditty essentially about people dancing blindly dancing in the face of doom (“Make a frisbee of the microwave…Ask around for the man to hire, use the books to light a fire/A billboard for a sporting team, pay me back in gasoline/A broken leg, a rabid dog, an empty camp, a filthy song/Chasing rabbits with a bowling pin.”)
Sung by Frey to banjo accompaniment, ‘(In the Same Room)’ with its pithy “I don’t want to die/But since we’re in the same room/I don’t want to die/Without kissing you” is another snippet, providing a bridge into the relationship-themed ‘Dead Money’, a lively scampering end of days number from a different angle (“When you were lying in bed beside me grieving your dead money/I looked around thinking someone must have something with a better ending/Hey let’s talk about the world to come/Looks like you’ll be needing some healthy doubt”).
The pace slows to a bluesy trudge for ‘Advice’ which seeks to address the huge changes in attitude and thinking that need to be made to try and solve or at least mitigate the climate emergency (“I am the gift/You’re the string/That’s been attached …You are the man/Who owns the man/With the gun…And you talk and talk/But it’s all the same advice/And you had my back/But it turns out you’re the knife”).
Another, slightly longer, snippet jammed in the studio, the waltzingly melodic ‘(Landmarks)’ also has an apocalyptic vision (“When the last of the landmarks have drowned/We spend a fortune repainting the ground/We look to the east and we finally found/The sun had come up without making a sound”) but still veined with resolution
(“I can’t believe/But I don’t want to give up on you yet”), the final full length number being the coping mechanisms of Not Burning Out’, written from the perspective of an ageing climate activist later in life, reflecting on what he has done to try and bring about change (“I remember early days when nobody spoke about an ending/And it put me through my paces tryin’ to find a way to face them/And now it’s one for not burning out, two for the pills I can’t do without/Leave me in for another round, I’ll be here when the lights go out”).
‘After You’re Gone)’ ends things as it began in close harmony a capella mode before the instruments quietly flow in, the lyrics a coda to the previous number as, in the voice of the planet, they repeat “I’ll be here/Long after you’re gone”. The album title less a surrender and more a reminder that it’s down to each and everyone to work together, this is an impressive late contender for the year end best ofs.
Artists’ website: www.thefugitives.ca
‘It Might Just Rain Like This For Days’ – official video: