Initially performing as the Original Brothers and Sisters of Love, the band now known as the Great Lakes Myth Society has been a presence in Ann Arbor since 1996 when brothers Jamie and Tim Monger moved here from Brighton. After two well-received albums, the bankruptcy of its label and a shuffling of personnel, the group agreed upon a name change.
Establishing it as “a folk-rock band that actually rocks” according to Mark Deming of the All Music Guide, the group’s 2005 self-titled debut as GLMS was an incendiary blend of nostalgic down-home folk and joyous arena rock – a style dubbed “Northern Rock” by the band.
A massive feat for a debut, Great Lakes Myth Society managed to define an entirely unique brand of sonic poetry. Take for example, “Buffalo Nickel,” a slowly building piece whose structure mimics the experience of a torrential thunderstorm from a pre-World War II house on Ann Street. The music progresses from the preliminary drizzle of the intro to the thunderous crash of the final chorus. Fans’ devotion has steadily grown since the first release, so naturally, expectations are high for the follow-up. And for the most part, Compass Rose Bouquet doesn’t disappoint.
A well-crafted and mature work, Compass Rose Bouquet is a worthy successor to Great Lakes Myth Society’s eponymous debut, but with a certain flavor all its own. “Heydays,” the opening track, sets the stage and gets the listener prepared for 45 minutes of Michiganian nostalgia. The clean, palm-muted rhythm guitar and smooth, gently lilting slide guitar lead is classic GLMS. Together they build to a climax worthy of Explosions in the Sky, though the similarities end there.
The second track, “Summer Bonfire,” is stirring and danceable, often bordering on country with its driving bass line, foot-tapping beat and raucous call-and-response chorus. In fact, Compass Rose Bouquet is entirely more country than its predecessor. The band is in the midst of a love affair with the banjo, and uses the instrument to great effect on slower tracks like “March” and “Days of Apple Pie.”
Unfortunately, these same tracks can be a little jarring given the energy level of the rest of the album; their plodding thoughtfulness tends to break the sequence a little too abruptly. The songs themselves, though, are quite good – “Days of Apple Pie,” in particular, ends with a groovy crescendo echoing with chilling, almost whispered vocal harmonies.
Sadly, the highs are never quite as high here as on the debut. Yes, songs like “Queen of the Barley Fool” and “Debutante” certainly rock, but the lack of showstoppers like the debut’s shout-along “Across the Bridge” is noticeable.
However, the band does benefit from a newfound consistency, which makes Compass Rose Bouquet a more satisfying listen when taken as a whole. The sound here is a more contemplative one, making the mood evoked far more definite. The band has elected to chill out and take things a little slower, which is in its own way just as effecting as the old rockers. This time they have a far better sense of what they want.
Lyrically, Compass Rose Bouquet is in the same vein as Great Lakes Myth Society. Both focus on the experience of growing up and living in Michigan, though more universal themes of love and loss are also present. At times, the writing is inspired, with a distinctly poetic sensibility – “March” and “Stump Speech” come readily to mind. Occasionally though, the descriptiveness of the lyrics can be a little overwrought. On “Nightfall at Electric Park,” in particular, the exhaustive imagery makes what should be a charming childhood memory feel trite. The GLMS lyricists are fine poets and balladeers, but here they take the sweetness a little too far.
Despite some flaws, the Great Lakes Myth Society has crafted a fantastic summertime record. When Compass Rose Bouquet hits stores June 10, expect another solid record from one of Michigan’s most beloved bands.
Great Lakes Myth Society
Compass Rose Bouquet
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars