Calvin Love - 'Highway Dancer'
There's a palpable mood at the heart of 'Highway Dancer', the latest LP from Canadian perennial Calvin Love. A mood as mercurial, dream-like, and haunted as a late night on the open road-the kind where you've been driving for hours, the sun set long ago, and you can feel each vein in your bloodshot eyes as they scan the headlights coming from the other side of the road. The pavement has been moving under your wheels for so long, you feel like you're barely moving at all, suspended in an endless night. "I'll sing this song for all the hundreds of highways / And the cities that never sleep," Love sings at the top of the title track-a love song to the journey, to the quiet hours, and all the places our minds drift to as the miles go by.
It's a feeling Love knows well-one he even craves-thousands of hours on the road as a lifelong musician not enough to keep him in one place for long. Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, Love credits his childhood isolation for leading him to music-the basement bands, local gigs, and early recordings that followed giving him what he needed to make his move. "I decided music would be the way I would see the world," Love explains. "To this day it has taken me places I would have never gone otherwise." There was a move to Europe at 18, a couple of years in LA, and a few more spent everywhere else you can think of-with Love developing his particular mix of lo-fi indie and darkly, atmospheric pop along the way.
A blue moon, a hitchhiker, a generous drifter, Love has always been influenced by his restless spirit, but it's 'Highway Dancer' where a new kind of road-noir comes to the forefront-his usual shades of deep scarlet and aubergine now laced with the clay-red of the Badlands and the ice-blue glow of the dashboard. From the opening minutes, the dreamy synths and lonesome sax of 'Wildflower' drop you into the driver's seat as you feel the white lines passing-a blur on the way to your unknown destination. Then 'Highway Dancer' drifts in, like another station on the AM radio you forgot was on while your mind began to stray-reflections on the miles, the streets, the faces you've left behind. Even the interludes like 'Soundtrack Of My Dreams' and 'Prairie Thunder Jazz Dream' sound like weird transmissions coming through from long-defunct relay towers-the sleepy acoustic guitar and wounded saxophone of the latter recalling nothing but late evening, the wee hours-as it seems to drift down from a balcony that Love is walking under, collar turned up to the unkind night.
While 'Highway Dancer' is full of songs for travelers, it also speaks to anyone who's ever been in limbo, in transition, or in-between moving and standing still. For Love, it represents a search for harmony: "I'm trying to learn how to find a balance between real life and the career dream," he explains. "Living the 'On the Road' has really put into perspective what I need in my life to be happy. The rat race doesn't exist. It only existed in my mind." It's this outsider spirit that informs the rest of the album-the courage to make one's own rules and the conviction to live with the consequences. It's present in the subtle twang of 'The Coin The Stick The Take', which has Love traveling through the desert, and in the propulsive rhythm and tight-snare beat of 'You Got Me Runnin'. "I can't feel this anymore" he pleads over and over again before taking off into the night, his voice rushing through the open landscape like a howling wind. And while Love counts Neil Young's 'On The Beach' and Orchestra Baobab as his favorite accompaniment for a late-night drive, one can't help but think of the outlaw grifters and highwaymen of Springsteen's 'Nebraska' during the quiet and bleak menace of 'A Thousand Years'.
As Love explains, "Many of the songs are the subconscious soundtrack to
my life and travels before my mind had a chance to conceive them.
Inspiration came from everything that attracted my inner soul to the external forces and beauty this world has to offer, from the endless highways of North America to the Hutong alleys of Beijing. I don't chase the songs they chase me."