That's the Spirit is the latest incarnation of Ottawa's Ben Wilson - a multi-instrumentalist and well-known staple of the local scene, with an emerging presence thanks to his upcoming debut L.P., Staying Places (Antique Room).
Canadian underground music-lovers might remember Wilson fronting Kelp Records' indie-rock stalwarts Paperjack, whose gritty The Effort I'll Never Get Back (2001) left duelling-guitar-hungry jaws dropping across the country before the band's demise in 2004. Folks also might know him as guitarist for Ottawa's premier pop band the Polytones, or multi-instrumentalist for Orienteers and regional faves Department of Foreign Affairs. Having decided, though, that That's the Spirit would be the outlet for his own brand of haunting, catchy space-folk, Wilson started playing shows with a revolving cast of backing musicians, and began recording a debut in the spring of 2008.
Staying Places is being released (CD and digital) on September 23, 2008. Folks could call this a theme album every song is based on Wilson's travels and travel literature-readings over the years.
From one angle, it's a snapshot of the mind of the postmodern traveller always wanting to be somewhere else, constantly in search of that idyllic exile, in a shrinking world with exhausted global space. Take "The Blue of Distance' for example (also a chapter title for Rebecca Solnit's book "Field Guide to Getting Lost') a moody, walking-pace take on eternal horizons, set against a droning organ riff, echoing guitars and ethereal trumpet. Or the urgency of "Always Coming Back', a shoegazing anthem about various unsuccessful attempts to walk out of cities.
From another angle, though, it's a personal reflection of that age-old conflict of putting down roots versus extending branches the comfort in routine, versus the challenge and excitement of the unknown and uncharted. From any perspective, Staying Places is meant to be a soulful, optimistic album for explorers and armchair travellers alike. (It's title, after all, is a play on Herb Alpert's Going Places a record cover which graces the walls of the Antique Room Š and if that's not an album for everyone, I don't know what is.)
Musically, it's a mash-up of road song-friendly influences, from Yo La Tengo and My Bloody Valentine to John Southworth and Iron and Wine.
Wilson's been hinting at a full-length for a while. He recently re-released a CD-R and cassette of older ³ultra-lo-fi² material he'd put out under the moniker Fisheyelens, titled I Like His Older Stuff. The E.P. was recorded using three ghetto blasters, a broken Radio Shack microphone, a cracked classical guitar and an ancient delay pedal that caught fire during one of the recording sessions. Despite the sketchy medium and the quality of the release originally, solid national charting and a bit of attention led to various solo tours in Canada and the northeast U.S., appearances on several CD compilations in Texas and Canada, and the chance to share the stage with some of his favourite artists, from Elevator to Alejandro Escovedo. Wilson has since written music for Canadian network television (HGTV, The Comedy Network and CBC) and, when not working full-time as a government writer, has been plugging away at setting up Antique Room, his own umbrella label/music licensing business, to get the next record out.
Today, he's finally got a release that makes the wait well-worth it. Staying Places was written, recorded, mixed and produced by Wilson in the basement studio he's built up over the years. Long-time bandmate Brennan Pilkington lends his talents on the drums, Tom Thompson plays the pedal steel guitar and Nicholas Dyson takes the spotlight on trumpet for a number of tracks.
25 songs were recorded for the album, and only 12 made the cut to fit thematically so it's fair to say that looking into 2009 we'll be hearing a lot more, a lot sooner, from That's the Spirit.