Canoe – The Goldminer review

Recommended if you like: Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake
Recommended tracks: “The Stone”, “The Planet”, “The Sea of Glass”

It has been a while since I received The Goldminer from Canoe’s Carl Hoiland, but it takes me a while to fully digest albums like this. However, Canoe has just released their newest album, The Ship, on iTunes, and I felt like it was time. Though perhaps it borders too much on the philosophical, this album is a dreamy, crystalline journey that definitely gives back what you put into it.  It’s a beautiful, mystical album that deserves far more attention than it has gotten, particularly now that their next album threatens to overtake it in popularity.

The Goldminer is a concept album that tells of a man who missed the American gold rush by 100 years. It begins with a soft, symbol-laden song called “The Stone” that seems to warn us of the dangers of pursuing wealth in this world. It is an album kicker with lyrics that would seem at home at the pulpit as well as the stage. Canoe is mostly an acoustic band, and one of the best things about this album is the way the acoustic guitars are mixed: chimey, transparent, and complex. No cheap under-the-saddle piezos here. You can partially thank Alan Douches for that. He’s the engineer who mastered the album, and he’s worked with the likes of Midlake and Sufjan Stevens, explaining in part the sonic sweetness. The Goldminer continues with “The Planet”, a song with a very catchy chorus, extolling the virtues of nature and beauty, and the narrative begins to develop in the next track, “The Continental Divide.”

Though we’re dealing with a concept album, admittedly it takes a while to develop and gets a little confusing in the middle. Concept albums are difficult to pull off, a delicate balance between being too obtuse or abstract on the one hand, or too trite or obvious on the other. When The Goldminer errs, it’s on the side of the former, though the lyrics are meticulously chosen and are filled with wonderful imagery. I would caution against those who want a lucid story out of this album. The lyrics are multi-layered and after months of listening to the album, I still feel like I only have a dim outline of the story, composed of Platonic abstract symbols.

If The Goldminer weren’t so darn catchy and easy to listen to, this might be distracting, but it’s a pleasure to listen to repeatedly as you passively absorb the imagery.  This isn’t Tales From Topographic Oceans (an album I actually like, believe it or not, but this isn’t it), and  I think this is where the album succeeds:  it somehow combines the densely symbolic with the airy and fleeting in a way that makes it all easy to swallow.  Very few albums that I know of can do this, let alone concept albums.

Several of the tracks of this album would work well as singles, including “The Caspian Sea”, “The Planet”, and “The Harbinger I & II”. I’m surprised that this album hasn’t had more attention for this reason alone. However, I think the album works best as a tight, seamless whole, from its whispering beginning to its powerful climax with the familiar “The Sea of Glass”. Despite its vagueness, the story really does explore some interesting facets of very American themes that seem to have been overlooked or unduly glorified in American music: materialism, Manifest Destiny, and the pursuit of wealth. The album is simply a joy to listen to almost from beginning to end, with only one or two forgettable sections. The fact that The Goldminer hasn’t gotten more attention than it deserves is really a shame.

The Goldminer is not a perfect album. It really borders on being quite pretentious (but what concept album doesn’t?), it wanders quite a bit, and it strangely combines gritty, down-to-Earth pursuits of natural resources, preachy Mormon-tinged ominous warnings, and high-minded and airy introspection and philosophy in a way that might perhaps seem uneven and inauthentic. But when The Goldminer succeeds, it is awe-inspiring, powerful, and perfectly crafted. I don’t review albums unless I really love them, and this album has made it into my most listened-to list.

Check out The Goldminer on iTunes

The Goldminer :  A- (92/100)

Canoe – The Goldminer review

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