The world is at the brink, in so many ways, none more terrifying than the climate catastrophe that we humans have created through our capitalist, consumerist selfishness. In times like this, art seems both futile and vital. On one hand, it feels like an overly indulgent luxury stemming from incredibly excessive privilege to focus on anything but activism. On the other, sometimes a song or a photo or a poem is exactly what is needed to crack someone’s heart open in just the right way. So, in the end, art is activism.
That’s the conclusion Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer came to, as well. After taking a decade off to focus on grassroots organizing for environmental causes, she is readying to release a new album, Are You Gone, on February 21, 2020 via Arts & Crafts. The album is brimming with political points painted in human hues to show how interconnected all aspects of life actually are.
There’s the punch and power of community action of “New Low” countered by the simmering and shimmering of love across distances that is “Just Get Here.” She may well sing the album’s mission statement right there in the middle of one of the record’s brightest lights, “Squeaking Voices”: “I’ll be on the side of anyone who makes a stand. Even if they don’t know I’m on their side, I am.” Other highlights include, the understated recounting of “Shoemaker” and the laid-back drive of “The Lookout.”
The set opens with the easy-going folk-rock of “St. Peter’s Bay” and its caring, bittersweet look back on a love now lost. Here, Harmer acknowledges what worked and didn’t, with gratitude for what it was, rather than anger for what it wasn’t. (No regrets, Coyote, you might say.) And she does it all in quintessential Canadian fashion… replete with hockey references.
“I wrote St. Peter’s Bay on the plane to Prince Edward Island for a Hockey Day in Canada theatre show, but the hockey part is only a prompt,” Harmer explains. “The song is about the end of a relationship, set against the frozen shoreline of Lake Ontario. I thought what better way to start the record than with black-and-white pioneer-era sound, and a tale of love burning down to its final ember.”
In the end, Are You Gone is a journey across time, place, learning, and loss that Sarah Harmer is an incredibly gracious guide to take us on, starting right there in “St. Peter’s Bay.”