On Wintersleep’s seventh full-length record, In The Land Of, the geography is both real and imagined. It is understood that our surroundings are not, in fact, essential or concrete elements; they’re constructed in relation to us, the inhabitants. Our identities, too, are constructed in relation to the land. The land, both physical and figurative, changes, and so do we. Familiar land. Foreign land. Inhospitable land. Unceded land. Stolen land. Dead land.
The album was recorded between Bath, Ontario’s Bathouse Recording Studio and Toronto’s Revolution Recording, with Scottish producer and longtime collaborator Tony Doogan (Belle + Sebastien, Mogwai) back at the helm. The record’s cover features an image captured by photographer Richard Carey. It’s an underwater shot of garbage and debris floating just below the surface, with errant strands of lime-green seaweed stretching into the frame. Yet another fragment of ‘land:’ “It’s still a product of land- dwellers,” says drummer Loel Campbell of the image. “It’s a reference to our current failures as a planet, as a society.”
This might be why In the Land Of doesn’t inhabit one terrain, but many. It might also be why none of these terrains feel comfortable. “I don’t really feel 100% at home anywhere,” says vocalist and guitarist Paul Murphy. “Over time, that’s something that weighs a lot on me, not feeling really connected to my environment.” The first commercial radio single, “Beneficiary,” is a throbbing disco-noir romp that details the modern relationship between whiteness and genocide of Indigenous peoples. “Drive to work all day, try to sleep at night/Beneficiary of a genocide,” Murphy sings. The lyrics borrow from Australian writer Peter Carey, who in an interview last year asserted, “You wake up in the morning and you are the beneficiary of a genocide.” “As a Canadian, I feel a real connection to that sentiment,” says Murphy. “It really encapsulates the idea of someone historically removed from these atrocities but who nonetheless benefits, and has to come to terms with and find ways to acknowledge and take on a certain responsibility in making it right.” The song, packaged under an ABBA-ish pop veneer that’s been charred and bruised (Campbell set the song to the tempo of “Dancing Queen”), details the continuing dynamic of settler-colonial violence. “I’m a history of violence/I’m a war never ending,” Murphy pines on the verses. It is a critical recentering of popular discussions of Indigenous issues, which typically focus on past evils. Here, these violences are located in the present, still unspooling—and the song reminds us that as settlers on unceded land acquired through genocide, we all share responsibility for this legacy. “You’ve not literally done something, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not benefitting from a wrong,” explains Murphy.
Like all Wintersleep records, In the Land Of encourages thought and introspection. The new record’s title is an incomplete thought, a blank that is filled in across the record with different places, words, and sounds. “A lot of the songs touch on this idea of being a
stranger or feeling foreign in all the different landscapes in which the songs took place lyrically,” explains Murphy. “It all relates back to the land,” adds guitarist Tim D’Eon.
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