Taking the train to somewhere out in the middle of nowhere (just beyond god knows where) then walking back via the least populated route, used to be one of my favourite ways to while away a spare day. Forgetting my job, the daily routine and rituals, whilst managing not to speak to a soul save for pleasantries to a conductor or ordering a brew in a quiet café was the perfect day away from it all. Ordinary life was better for a day outside the usual confines; no phone, newspaper, music, people, tv or distractions left me more grateful for what I had after returning from the briefest time outside of my life. These days I don't need to experience isolation to escape the day to day. I can be out just walking the dog with my partner yet still manage to disappear from a worried, rushed, angry or sometimes - daft world. I don't even need to go that far and I'll feel that same release solitude used to evoke. Maybe I find it easier to escape and unwind - or maybe I just care less these days.
So escape is relative. For some it means jumping off the train somewhere on the Caldervale Line and for others it involves breaching a whole other wilderness in order to separate themself from the world. When it comes to seeking out that wilderness, be it physical or spiritual, Siberia is probably up there for the earthly limits of somewhere you can be to strip yourself of the quotidian shackles and trinkets. Daniel Sheron did just that, leaving his life in Moscow behind him and going it alone into Siberia. The result of this self-imposed exile, this peregrination - both personal and geographical - is "October's Road". His reasons for making the journey become apparent throughout the album but essentially he needs time to think and space to be. The places he visited, the people he met and the engulfing grey landscapes along the way may have been bleak but their profound effects were absorbed and present themselves richly in an utterly captivating album and a tale of personal re-discovery.
"The Railyard" begins with lush vocal harmonies and develops into an uplifting yet brooding tale of lost love. Referring to the state of a relationship at its end and driving Daniel to go somewhere with a language he doesn't understand and where he knows nothing. Maybe then he can make sense of everything he's lost and live beyond the flickering spark of life, as it is, which he'll now spend alone. The introspection continues in "Self Portrait" and although there's an optimism to the melody and lyrics "I'm gonna make it", the realisation is that he has to journey on to get anywhere. To go back would only mean seeing her face, the reminder that there is nothing to stay for and more importantly, nobody to share the nothingness with. "Tin Man" may well be a character from along his journey but the Tin Man I'm thinking of wanted a heart; a way to feel true feelings. Maybe having too much love still hurts too much at this point of the escape, and the idea of not feeling anything seems like a better alternative.
"Kirov Factory" is a beautiful song and the lyrics convey a vulnerability and honesty in trying to make sense of his failings and for such a sweet-sounding song there's an implied ugliness to how things ended. The mood soon lifts with "Elizabeth and the Bumblebee" though and although there is still bitterness, there's a beat and you can't help feeling Daniel is moving on. But to move on we sometimes need to look back and that's a theme you'll hear into "Long Time Coming" as he confesses, "I'm losing my mind" in a moment of self-doubt. The lyrics may sound desperate but when his voice is joined by others, not only am I reminded of the opening vocals to the album but there's also a strength starting to shine through. "Don Quixote" carries on where this leaves off and resolve definitely seems to be on the horizon.
The titular track returns to the narrative of "The Railyard" acting as pages from the diary and updating us on the journey and where he is in his mind. Like in every other place on this album, the whole sound is perfect and evocative that there is definitely hope and a future ahead for our journeyman. "The Lover" confirms better land lies ahead. Everyone in the story is finally getting the chance to move on, taking us to the "Home November Shore" of the final track bringing our hero an understanding of how he can live without somebody that was his life and in turn, what life will be without them.
I'm guessing Balto take their name from the legendary Siberian Husky responsible for transporting life-saving serum in treacherous Alaskan conditions back in 1925. Reading the story of this good dog whilst listening to the album definitely added a chill to the air and context to the sonics. This is a wholly impressive album by a collective that until this week I'd never heard of - but honestly, I can't recommend it highly enough. Impressive is putting it mildly. This album will speak to anyone wanting to escape from whatever and for whatever reason. Prepare to be equally impressed with the price too; a modest $5 will buy you one of a variety of formats via Soundcloud. I'd usually try to avoid over-selling any album at the risk of appearing too endeared to any one sound but seriously - only the foolhardy will pass up the chance to listen to Daniel Sheron's journey. If you're listening to any amount of Americana or folk these days, this album deserves to share the space on your shelves.