I’ve hesitated to blog about this record since the day it came out. I was given the demo recordings for this album in the summer of 2012 and have spun them innumerable times. When the finished studio versions of these jams came into my possession I was absolutely stunned by the execution. It was like meeting as adults children you had known very well. And what adults these songs had become, each one a fully fleshed virtuous citizen of Edmonton’s idyllic musical city state. I have listened to this record nearly every day since that fateful LP release late in December and have wondered what I could say to do the record justice.
In The Dark on 99 is ripe with an emotional quotient well beyond my own. It has the power to drive you into self-reflection—to usher you to an exercise of humanity’s higher faculties. And like any good hard exercise, you feel exhausted and refreshed thereafter—dare I say, reborn. Jom Comyn has always been able to balance the coolness of our arctic zephyrs with a warmth like some business foyer people silently huddle together in waiting for a bus. Is there any doubt that In the Dark on 99 is the winter record Jom Comyn set out to create? I often get the feeling listening to songs like “O Frozen Sidewalks” and “Waves, No Water” that I am laying in the snow again like I would as a child, like a snow angel before getting its wings, so still, one’s own body the middle element between frost and thaw.
The careful distinctions between white space and cascading guitars, between light jazzy symbols and full throttle percussive marches, all of these sharply contrasting production choices is a kind of musical cipher for that deep wintry silence so often and so suddenly intruded by the roar of an engine and the gust of its passing—a feeling no resident of 99th street area is unfamiliar with. You are taken by this record on that bitter self-fortifying walk home at one or two in the morning from another glorious night at Wunderbar or Empress. It is this encryption of Edmonton that makes Jim’s new record, not unlike past records, such a testament to the power of music to reproduce place. It is probably my own bias, being so rooted here. But is it not vain and so much less rewarding to reach out and try to touch some ‘universal’ form of music, detached from the earth, belonging to some faceless nameless realm of angels or essence? So much more resonant is the artist who embraces their place and time, freeing it from itself, ex-pressing it into a new more human existence. It is for this reason that records like this are the agents of history. They project our living into artifact, into myth, into language, for us, by us.
Even the most inward songs on this record, songs like “Monotone” and “Wish Upon a Storm,” do not excise you from a visceral embodiment, from location and duration, but rather enforce their reality (even despite Sisyphean references). “Wish Upon a Storm” no doubt ranks among the most elevating songs our city has generated. It taps deep into existential truths that are inherently difficult to articulate (and is this not why what art is for?). Here too we observe a rhetoric inspired by our climate—bundling up, deteriorating sweaters, longer colder nights—but these images all invite allegorical interpretation, a landscape of the soul that even the most equatorial dweller can fall deep into contemplation over. It is a song that balances the loftiest of otherwise contradictory emotions, a true Romanticist work worthy of 19th century Germany and 21st century Canada all the same.
In summary, already I am entirely sure this record is among the best of 2014. Yet another friend and artist has turned themselves inside out, has been a human in the world, has humanized the world. We are all the better for it.