Have you ever seen a herd of bison roaming through the snow and mist? If not, you can look at the cover art of As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide, the fifth album by Vancouver trio Said the Whale, for reference. Like the snow in the image, the record is gorgeous, but chilling. Here, Ben Worcester, Tyler Bancroft and Jaycelyn Brown have crafted something that will linger in the minds of those who can appreciate its subtlety.
As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide is most likely not the kind of album you’d want to blast from your speakers while cruising down the highway. It’s a delicate beauty that deals almost exclusively with heavy, heart-wrenching topics. It never loses its sense of hope, though. Although it can be enjoyed in any frame of mind, it’s especially well-suited for those feeling pensive and in the mood to put their dark thoughts to rest, if only for thirty minutes.
One of the hallmarks of As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide is the juxtaposition between its dreamy, ethereal atmosphere and the sadness of its lyrics. This quality is introduced from the start of the single “Step into the Darkness,” which is studded with intriguing synthesizer sounds and shimmering electronic flourishes. After hearing lead vocalist Ben Worcester sing “My sweet light, sweet love of mine,” it’s easy to expect it to be a love song… but when he finishes his statement by saying, “It might never again feel like it’s the right time/If it’s the end, well, let’s cross that line,” the song’s true nature as a haunting reflection on a broken relationship as revealed. Another song that handles this juxtaposition particularly well is “Heaven,” which shows off a more psychedelic side of the band with its organ sounds, airy vocals, and relaxed pace. The chorus—“Nostalgia… Heaven must be made of it”—sounds relatively pleasant. It takes on a decidedly melancholy tone, however, near the end of the song, when the words “I had a heavy dream/It was such a feeling/You woke up, and we never said goodbye” are sung. Instead of producing nagging dissonance, the album’s sense of contrast adds to the its rich complexity, inviting the listener to ponder the story packed into each short track (no song is over four minutes long).
Although the album’s ethereal sonic atmosphere persists throughout all ten tracks, Worcester, Bancroft and Brown are still able to make each one sound distinct. For example, “More Than Ever” is embellished with breathy female backing vocals. “Realize Real Eyes” features the somber, but powerful playing of a piano. “I Will Follow You” has an upbeat, funky riff and a more rock-influenced sound. As a result, the album as a whole is mellow without being dull.
It should also be noted that the As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide contains a fair share of lyrical gems. In “Step into the Darkness,” the complications of fading romance are discussed in a particularly poetic manner, with past relationships described as “all of my shrines, old broken hearts, and wind chimes.” “Miscarriage” has some thought-provoking moments as well, but it’s thought-provoking in a different way. As its title would suggest, its lyrics recount the story of a miscarriage in a manner that’s blunt, but not without a tinge of hope. Beginning with lines like “[We] broke the news like a couple of fools” and ending with the phrase “Everything is beautiful” (which doesn’t sound so kitschy in context), it does a good job of projecting raw emotion while leaving some positivity for listeners to cling to.
As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide may deal with some bittersweet topics, but thankfully, it avoids the trap of turning into a sentimentality fest and manages to communicate life’s range of emotions in a way that’s graceful and honest. Like the bison plowing through snow on its cover, it plows through some harsh subjects, but always keeps moving and gazing toward the future.