Largely crafted by songwriter Aaron Powell, Montreal’s Fog Lake surround poetic takes on nostalgia, suffering, and lost connections with a mass of bleak rock aestheticism, the entire instrumental pallet mixed into one grim soup. Dragonchaser isn’t necessarily a concept work, but many of the songs speak about the destruction that results from being stuck in a rut of unhealthy habits. The opener pulses at a sluggish tempo with Powell repeating “I’ll just wait for Novocain,” his only solace from “such easily forgotten days.”
Although frustration and darkness flow out of every crevice of the lyrics, occasional brightness comes out of the sonic offerings, framing the work as some sort of emotional journey. It’s a project to listen to in a dark room as you waste away, but the soaring atmosphere of closing acts “push” and “spectrogram” may inspire you to take that step outside.
The slightly grimy DIY sound fits Powell’s vocal delivery perfectly. His words croon out of his throat, barely escaping his lips and the record finds a variety of different ways to offer complementary instrumentals. On “Tolerance,” the low-pitch, swelling backdrop sounds more like a highly reverberated sample than a specific instrument, cushioning this speak singing and allowing the high backing vocals in the second verse room to breathe.
The up close and personal guitar on “Strung Back Around” creates a bit more tension in the sound, but drones deep in the mix and the occasional pecked out piano melody offer a bit more depth to contrast the cloudy foreground. “Side effects” on the other hand, embraces a tight knit room, but the instrumentals largely fit a rhythmic purpose and Powell’s voice climbs into a higher range with lilting melodic material. The overall sonic-picture always seems to work and there’s a general shadowy darkness, but each track tweaks the atmosphere ever so slightly to create a dynamic experience.
Powell doesn’t lay everything out for the listener lyrically. The record largely dismisses the hook/verse structure, so there’s not a repeated one liner for each song that summarizes the other ideas. Even “Rattlesnake,” the tune most akin to a radio-friendly single, rambles off a great deal of esoteric lines. “Have a toast to your luck it never changes” nods to the constant theme of stagnation, whereas lines like “I’ll cut all the heartstrings just to save myself” and “I’ll make you see all the ways you snuck into my head…til the good part of me died” talks about the harm that comes from baseless attraction. The whole song is also underpinned with the idea of death: “I keep riding with the ghost, just to see if it’s true, if ill become their host, meet my maker,” giving Powell’s static acts an extra layer of gloominess.
Besides its mention on “Rattlesnake,” death is a prevalent subject throughout the work. It both gives the themes more impact and makes everything seem meaningless in the grand scheme of things. After suffering on “Novocaine” Powell shrugs it all off through the gruesome final verse “they put a stake right through my heart/they bled me dry til the feeling stopped/they put a bounty on my head/they said goodbye said goodnight/and that was it.” Later, Powell offers daring self-awareness, knowing his habits and memories will haunt him until his dying day: “old dog new trick/some memories they just can’t resist/and when they find me bleeding out know/that there was never any doubt in my head.”
“Dragonchaser” offers a lot to think about, but the melodies also allow for catharsis. Through every adjustment in aesthetic tint and each comparison drawn between death and daily action, Powell offers a catchy sing-able melody to confide in, requiring repeated listens for a multitude of different purposes.