The Jerry Cans
Iqakuit may as well be on another planet. The city is in the Canadian province of Nunavut, which covers a large swath of land along the Arctic Ocean. It was a difficult place to visit even before Covid-19 put the breaks on travel. It’s a remote, isolated area where Inuit people try to strike a balance between being sucked into the global economy and retaining their language, art and culture. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to visit there, but thanks to artists like the Jerry Cans, I can get a hint of what living in the far north is like.
The Jerry Cans bio says they “have always been, and will always be, a band from and for the North.” Their blend of indie rock, folk and traditional music is being noticed down South. Their previous albums have been nominated for the Juno Award and their latest release, Echoes, deserves to be heard by music junkies around the globe.
“Tukturjuk” opens the album with a haunting piano and violin instrumental that suggests both beauty and sadness a duality that runs through the entire album. After that quiet, meditative, opening, “On the Rocks” hits like a jolt of electricity. The pulse of drums, bass and throat singing (that fills the role of a beat boxer in hip hop) propels the song. The melody is full of energy suggesting optimism and hope, contrasting with the words that speak of isolation and despair. “SOS” is propelled by a Celtic fiddle riff and the sort of prog-rock associated with Cirque Du Soleil productions. Like most of the Jerry Cans songs, it is sung primarily in Inuktitut complemented by some English lines. I can’t tell what they’re singing about on “Atauttikkut,” but I love way the guitars suggest the Clash rallying the punks to oppose injustice.
The song that carries the biggest emotional punch is “Swell (My Brother)”. The song deals with the overwhelming frustration that leads people to take their own lives. During the recording of Echoes, bassist and main songwriter Brendan Doherty learned that two of his childhood friends died by suicide. Guitarist Andrew Morrison sings “My Brother, Got the phone call today. My brother, why’d you have to go this way?” The song speaks directly to the mental health issues that are all too common in Native communities. Suicide is all too common. Morrison asks, “What are we supposed to tell our sons?”
(“Swell” hits close to home. I recently called for a wellness check on a friend that was insisting that they were going to kill themselves in social media posts. I was thankful that the police called me back to say my friend was safe. )
Echoes may well be written for people living above the Arctic Circle, but these songs deserve to be heard by a much wider audience. The emotions the Jerry Cans explore are universal. The music is bracing, often beautiful and exhilarating. I hope that the Jerry Cans songs help the rest of us appreciate the unique struggles of the Inuit and realize that what happens in remote Iqaluit, matters to all of us.