Interviews, Reviews

Challenging Curiosity: Funeral Lakes ‘Redeemer’ Review & Interview

Kingston, Ontario’s Funeral Lakes is a duo made up of college students Sam Mishos (she/her) and Chris Hemer (he/him) that has been making contemplative indie neo folk since the spring of 2018. Together they’ve released a self-titled album, the Golden Season EP, and – as of August 20th – the Redeemer EP. The Redeemer EP is a stunning foray further into the Funeral Lakes sound that has garnered comparisons to The Velvet Underground, Arcade Fire, and Sparklehorse among others. This release sees them expanding their palettes and adding more and more substance into their familiar-but-fresh arrangements.

Redeemer EP is a powerful contemplation of the afterlife, asking questions posed as long as time has gone on. It is easy to see where the curiosity came from with so much going on in the world at any given time, especially in the age where the information is easily accessible, but their consideration of the way the world is right now during a global pandemic in various stages of seriousness on top of already peaking levels of tension leads them to offer questions to a possible god. It seems imperceivable to have someone out there calling the shots when the chaos surrounding us ebbs and flows in such an unpredictable and overwhelming manner, and Funeral Lakes has expressed that sentiment with grace, restraint, and eloquence.

‘Redeemer EP’ artwork

The EP starts with Solstice, a riveting opener with a heartbeat of a drum pattern provided by Andrew McLeod (Sunnsetter). This song immediately communicates the tone of the EP as a somber, reflective piece that tends to prefer finding space ringing out into the open than pushing into your face as it begins. The haunting vocals hovering in the background allow a breathing room for the track even as it becomes more of a stadium chant “I can not pray for rain if it won’t fall, I can not ask forgiveness if I don’t want it at all.” It reads as more of a slow trudge forward into a thought process, reluctant to leave the doorframe of comfort.

Place I Stay takes a turn for a brighter sound. It successfully blends dreamy guitar, roomy vocal treatment, and dancing basslines that all fit neatly the new wave revival surging in indie rock. Something that sets it apart from its peers is that it also possesses an earnest voice in the lyricism that expresses that slightly more sinister state of mind, “A noose, your big white collar / Let loose your sons and daughters / And soon you’ll burn like embers / Not again, not again, my friend.” Place I Stay‘s faster pace and drum pattern provided by Sunnsetter as well definitely make it a song ready for a radiowave summer, a deceptively light colored wrapping paper around a heart of darkness.

Are you listening? You listening? You listening?” ushers in third track, Saint Dymphna, named after the teenage saint murdered by her father. The duo use the narrative provided by the reference to explore the wrongdoings of religious people and the stress of having to uphold faith without foundation. It has a similar new wave feel to Place I Stay but definitely has more of that melancholy guitar tone in it as it closes “All these gaslights, driving me insane. Trudging forward, lord I curse your name.

There’s Got To Be Something Better Soon is the closing track of the EP. A soft, sobering statement about the state of all things providing more and more holes in a frayed sense of faith. The values of the band being displayed on their sleeve as they show that their consciousness of suffering around them can not be shrugged off for the loose comfort of faith. And as the cymbals tap out a shimmering swan song, the fluttering is overcome with a final question, “who will break my heart?

Overall, Redeemer EP is a gorgeous piece of music that evokes the exact emotion you would expect from the subject matter. It is captivating, poignant, and entrancing. It has heavy replay value and feels blooming in its sound. Even though it is recorded in a bedroom like their previous projects, the mixing and mastering of Colin Spratt offer it the proper room to breathe. It is refreshing, open, and unashamed of being sorrowfully frustrated. We here at Tunnel of Trees had the amazing opportunity to ask them a few questions about the process as well.

Photo by Roy Zheng

What were your primary musical influences for Redeemer specifically? Were there any songs in particular you liked to warm up with before the studio or an artist you found yourself gravitating toward in the process?

There’s a band called Saintseneca that we both really love. They’ve been hugely influential to how we’ve approached our music since we started. We were listening to their last album called Pillar of Na quite a bit while recording this EP from our home. There’s a sort of space and eeriness to that record that we wanted to emulate in our own way. They strike a great balance between subdued, hymnal songs and more energetic rockers. The record as a whole takes you to another world they’ve created, which is something we’re always striving to do. 

The religious themes are obvious in this release. It wears its heart on its sleeve from the title to the artwork to the lyrics. How do you feel you would each describe your relationships with faith? What do you feel like compelled you to write about that relationship on this release?

Neither of us currently practice any religion, but we appreciate the value that faith can hold in people’s lives. Over this past year, we spent some time rehashing old memories, and as we both spent periods of our youths at catholic schools, these were themes that emerged for us. They’ve always been present in our lives and the music we create, to varying degrees. As we get older, we’re able to approach them with new perspectives and ask different questions. 

How do you feel you manage to balance lightness in your sound with somewhat darker lyrical contemplation?

We try to tell a story and transport the listener to another place, which is something we appreciate in much of the music we listen to. We create an atmosphere by blending shoegaze sounds with melody/lyrics that draw inspiration from folk traditions, and wash everything with a good deal of reverb. We’ve always aimed to approach serious topics in a more conversational rather than confrontational way, so our music often reflects that. 

When talking with Newfound Sound, you let everyone know that you’re both in grad school. Chris is going for commemoration and Canadian National mythology and Sam is going for health, environments, and communities. What have been the most interesting things you’ve learned so far? What drew you to those areas of study?

Sam: At the start of my master’s, I took a course that really shifted my way of thinking, both academically and personally. We explored the problematic foundations of dominant western ways of thinking, and how our own positionalities/identities influence the ways in which we perceive our realities and construct knowledge. Engaging with critical Indigenous and feminist theories in particular have helped me to rethink my relationships with people, other-than-human beings, and the environment. I’ve always felt passionate about the environment and its connection to health and wellbeing, so that’s what initially drew me to this area of study. 

Chris: I spent a lot of time this past year exploring historical omissions and the role power plays in the making of history. There’s this book called Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot that’s helped me to reexamine historical works with a far more critical lens. I’ve always been interested in history, specifically Canadian stories, and when I was a kid, like many others, I absorbed these narratives as truths. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been motivated to revisit mythologies central to the so-called Canadian identity, and to reckon with our past and the ways in which it has echoed into our present.

Photo by Katerina Zoumboulakis

Something that resonates with me about your individual areas of study is their seeming focus on community analysis and outreach, do you feel that inspires you with your sense of musicianship and performing as well?

Absolutely, connecting with people through music is a motivating force for us, and many artists. Some of our music comes from deeply personal places so putting it out into the world can be scary, but also rewarding in the way it has enabled us to connect with people. Hearing that our songs are resonating with some folks is more than we could really ever hope for. 

How do you think the future of these communal experiences around music will shift as the pandemic continues evolving?

While some have been critical of the limited quality of livestreams, from an accessibility standpoint, we think they’ve presented a great way to reach folks from wherever they’re at. Pandemic aside, live gigs have always presented a whole host of safety and accessibility concerns, so it would be awesome to see multiple ways presenting music continue going forward. 

And, finally, something I appreciate about you both specifically is that your social stances are forward and honest in the best of ways. You openly accept your status as settlers and are doing your best to draw attention to local efforts with natives. This is currently expressed through open opposition to and fundraising efforts against the Trans Mountain pipeline. Would you like to talk more about the Trans Mountain pipeline?

Our federal government recently purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline with public money in the midst of a climate crisis. They’re currently expanding that pipeline, which will nearly triple the capacity to transport diluted bitumen – a product that nobody wants. First Nations, including the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Coldwater, have launched legal challenges that have slowed down the project’s progress. But the fight is far from over, as our government continues to force this reckless project through unceded territory while our country is quite literally on fire. We got involved with the Pull Together campaign back in 2019 as a small way to support this fight. If you’d like to learn more, you can take a look at their website here.

We would like to thank Funeral Lakes immensely for their conversation and for the Redeemer EP which you can stream and buy below:
Apple Music

And you can keep up with them everywhere below:

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