Polished and pensive, Ian Foster’s “Sleeper Years” isn’t as sleepy as one might think. It’s alert, cognisant of the world around it, filtering narrative and vivid visuals through its songs.
It never strays too far, though; this is a craftsman at work, careful and aware of his product. Each song has its place, each style given its own space. The album is naturally accessible; Foster’s not one for fleeting excess or experiments. It’s catchy and poppy, but is also a reminder that these qualities shapeshift and adapt. There’s a variety of approaches and each is given time to shine.
One thing that anybody previously familiar with Foster’s work knows is that above all else he’s a master with words. He’s got many a tale to tell and tells them with elegance. Some of the songs are in essence short stories, others poeticisms reflecting a connection to his surroundings.
Newfoundland is the obvious backdrop for all the scenes played out. Besides the narrative settings mentioned by name, its chilled, salted air permeates every thematic nook and cranny. It is, in essence, a love letter to our province, lyrically grafted onto a myriad of pop, rock, and folk arrangements.
As a mainstay in the St. John’s folk circuit, he’s held steady as a thoughtful and honest songwriter. It’s all very direct, not mired in veiled sentiments or hidden motives. This is music made to bare a man’s mind, his creations, his stories.
Even the sparsest moments, like the piano closer “Our Love Was” build upon a fixed path, settling in on a restrained and self contained testimony. While there’s portions of overt sentimentality that I can’t personally connect to or think are slightly overwrought, there’s a dedication to the craft that can’t be ignored. And as a fellow logophile his wordplay is second to none. Verbosity sometimes overtakes poetry, but in this case it just adds new shades to an already colourful canvas.
Foster’s become the model modern Newfoundland songwriter. Fluid in genre, pitch perfect in practice, but still harkening to the raconteur beginnings of the folk tradition. It’s universally appreciated but grounded in local sensibilities.
Foster’s emotive voice has already crept its way throughout Canada, US, and Europe, and Sleeper Years is yet another vessel he’ll sail away on. He’ll be touring all summer and into the fall across the continent, bringing his own brand of beautiful folk songs all over the world.