Following on from their highly acclaimed 2017 “Warmth of the Sun” album, the popular Toronto-based roots rockers, Skydiggers, are ready to share brand new music once more. Released on October 4th, “Let’s Get Friendship Right” finds co-founders Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson unite once more to share possibly their most self-reflective and personal material to date.
Shortly after their 2017 release, both Finlayson and Maize found themselves turning to the healing power of music to deal with the recent loss of friends and family members. Isolating themselves in a week long retreat at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, this songwriting duo made the collective decision to write and record a suite of songs to chronicle the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This idea gradually evolved into a nine-song celebration of the heartfelt and personal relationships that have shaped, influenced and inspired both songwriters.
Recorded and mixed by Nyles Spencer at the Bathouse Studio in early 2018, and supported by Peter von Althen (percussion) and Aaron Comeau (guitar/bass/keyboards), the end result is a remarkable Skydiggers album that is like no other. How different? Well, there is the temporary separation from their trusted bandmates for starters. The material here is a little darker than we are accustomed to also, with little “Warmth” as both Finlayson and Maize remain strongly focused on the core subject matter. And truly helping this album stand out are both the vocal and audio effects that gives a distinct twist to their conventional sound, adding vocal echoes and atmospheric intensity to Andy’s voice.
Muted vocals combine with echoes and effects, as found in the slow-paced “Five Cold Canadians,” and continue into “If I’m Spared,” which gains momentum through the drum beat and highly-satisfying bursts of harmonica to complement Andy’s subdued vocals. Spinning this album in its entirety, a few tracks certainly caught me by surprise. Go ahead and skip to “Slow Business,” and marvel at the introduction that has an eighties synth vibe that I would have never associated with this band, but it works. It works VERY well. Combined with the guitars that follow, the sounds offer an incredibly atmospheric pulse.
Proceed to “Questions of Love,” and prepare to be consumed by an amazing heavy bass intro that is almost ‘ska’ in sound and style; never in this lifetime did I think I would compare this band to the likes of The Specials. Jump once more to “Too Soon To Say Goodbye,” and you’ll return to a more traditional Skydiggers sound, albeit with some bouncing organ keys and a dominant drumbeat that hints of early British Invasion influences for me. And just wait until you discover the horns in “Always and Forever.” Not quite the all-out assault of Tijuana brass, as say, The Mavericks (am I the only one hearing similarities to “I’ve Got a Feeling Inside” here?), but enough to add some heartfelt emotion to the song.
Having pre-released “Ineligible” as a new single, the very nature of this track elevates it above all others on the album, and earned many repeat plays while formulating this article. And in similar fashion to the late Gord Downie, Andy Maize has never been one to shy away from political commentary, especially during his live performances. Having found inspiration from the artwork “Ineligible,” created by Anita Matusevics and Jason Halter of Wonder Inc., Maize narrates a 4:55 rant against a quirky, electro-jazz soundtrack that is as far removed from anything this band has previously crafted.
Reciting the ‘Categories of Citizens Ineligible to Vote in Canada, 1867-1960,’ Andy delivers a stunning narrative: “No woman shall have the right to vote at any election … No person of Indian origin or of part Indian blood … No unmarried women … No widows … No person in need who receives social assistance … No immigrant of Chinese origin …” and the list goes on. “The writ has dropped, the game is on, the jig is up and we hope that this October 21st you’ll be inspired to vote, and inspire others to vote,” the duo recently shared, and while I initially struggled to connect this history of voter suppression with the core album theme, parallels were soon drawn between the current political climate and calls for action, and those five stages of grief.
That voter suppression was an accepted norm (Denial/Anger/Depression). That access to free and fair elections should be an unequivocal right (Bargaining). That Ineligible be deemed past tense; that it should have no place in modern free societies, thus should cease to exist (Acceptance). “It’s time to have your say, and to honour those who have not always had the opportunity,” the duo add. “To walk away knowing that you have done your bit, that you have tried, and that you have not taken for granted the struggle to gain the right to vote by those who have come before.”