Having emerged in Athens, GA roughly two decades ago, Great Lakes’ formative period was the byproduct of three individuals and a load of Southeastern psych-pop support. However, since 2008 the outfit’s increasingly mature country and folk inflected shots have been called from the home base of Brooklyn by founding singer-songwriter-guitarist Ben Crum. Now after a gap of five years Great Lakes are back with Wild Vision; it’s out January 22 on the band’s own Loose Trucks label.
Formed in 1996 when the songwriting tandem of Ben Crum and Dan Donahue hooked up with James Huggins, Great Lakes was initially part of the labyrinthine circuitry comprising the Elephant 6 Collective, mainly through a live lineup featuring many of the scene’s participants including utility bass player Derek Almstead and members of Elf Power, Of Montreal (indeed Kevin Barnes), Essex Green, Ladybug Transistor, and Neutral Milk Hotel.
Furthermore, their second and fourth albums were released on the Elephant 6-associated Orange Twin label as The Apples in Stereo’s honcho Robert Schneider mixed their self-titled 2000 debut for Kindercore. It was an effort defined by sunny neo ‘60s psych-pop, flashes of bold guitar, and occasional distinguishing wrinkles like the AOR-ish keyboard of “Become the Ship.”
While a pleasant affair, Great Lakes is largely of interest to fans of the more forthrightly psych-pop, twee-leaning chapters of the Elephant 6 saga. The record’s 2002 follow-up The Distance Between traveled a similar path, a nifty cover of The Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year” amongst its selections, but it also stretched out a bit, particularly on the lengthy rocking closer “Conquistadors.”
In 2002 Crum and Donahue moved to Brooklyn as Higgins’ role diminished; 2006’s Diamond Times for Empyrean Records offered a significant stylistic progression. Drifting away from the psychedelic milieu, the template throughout was fortified by the aforementioned country and folk leanings, with “Farther” reminiscent of Wilco’s more straight-ahead moments.
“Hot Cosmos” augmented the Tweedy-esque angle with a ‘70s Buck/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac bent and horns recalling early Steely Dan, but more importantly “Night Hearts” and the title track exuded resemblances to the less tongue in cheek work of Camper Van Beethoven and David Lowery’s subsequent work in Cracker.
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