Isolation keeps your ideas pure. Isolation will drive you crazy. At the literal end of a quiet, winding country road in Dunnville, Ontario—the kind shared with foxes, windmills, and little else—sits Mechanical Noise Studio. It is the picture of isolation. This is the studio of Mitch Bowden. His band is called Don Vail. Don Vail is he. For a decade, Mitch, Mechanical Noise, and Don Vail have blurred into a synonymous thing. With the person and the means and the moniker intertwined—and isolated from all distractions—anything has been possible.
In January 2009, Don Vail released its Jordon Zadorozny-produced, self-titled debut. The album’s deft marriage of beguiling harmonic warmth and dispassionate math-rock riffage deserved to be a launching pad. Instead, the band spent the ensuing decade releasing precisely eight songs and playing two shows. Fully self-recorded and mainly self-performed, 2016’s Fades was a beautifully realized reduction of Bowden’s melodic craftsmanship. But it also couldn’t hide the effects that isolation can have upon an artist—so much personal control and mastery countered equally by a near-choking perfectionism and lack of urgency. It was the sort of release that begged for the crack of a whip. And Bowden was about to get one. In the spring of 2017, Don Vail received a fortuitous invitation. Concise as it was, Fades displayed more than enough promise to secure a stay at Grouse Lodge Studios, Ireland. But there was a catch—the window was not open indefinitely. Don Vail had only a matter of weeks to turn scattered shards of maybes into actual songs. Don Vail needed to be more than Mitch Bowden.
Enlisting longtime drummer Victor Malang, as well as guitarist Matthew Fleming and keyboardist/vocalist Kori Pop, Bowden finally had the impetus to break his isolation. The freshly formed quartet rehearsed with relish, all of those expectant seeds quickly catching root in the verdant soil. Grouse Lodge, with its new faces and ancient energies, would not be an opportunity wasted. That Stand Of Tide wasn’t finished in Ireland hardly matters. Sure, Bowden returned to Mechanical Noise to complete the sessions in much the same manner that he always had. But the overseas journey had turned something vital. Now the some day when shit would get done was today. Compared to the controlled brevity of Fades, Stand Of Tide is an onrushing wave of generosity. Its 13 songs cascade forth with kaleidoscopic tonality—recalling in equal measure the effortless hooks of Guided By Voices, the arrangement acumen of Jon Brion, and the awe and melancholy of Figure 8-era Elliott Smith. It’s the kind of record that that can only be made by an exacting talent—one who at this point has had the time to puzzle over every last inch of his process.
“Put all our plans away,” sings Bowden on the title track. “They only serve to stop motion.”
Creative isolation—with its refinement, its process, its planning—can serve a purpose. Don Vail has no use for it anymore.