Making sense of winter

As temperatures plunge, many Yukoners find themselves beating winter blues by gravitating to the warming sounds of folk and rock.

As temperatures plunge, many Yukoners find themselves beating winter blues by gravitating to the warming sounds of folk and rock.

Not so for Yukon musician Kyle Cashen. When he finds the rivers freezing around him, he releases an album about a town that kills itself through isolation.

“For me, the way I deal with things is by getting introspective and reflective, chilling out and coming into my space and shutting the world out — letting the layers of sound swirl around me,” said Cashen.

“That would depress someone else, but for me it’s what I need to process things — it makes the winter make sense to me,” he said.

Mellow is the first order of business on They Built Houses Here, the first full-length album by Cashen’s group Crash the Car.

Folk, acoustic and rock guitar all take their stand on They Built Houses Here, but they do so amid the album’s tight framework of pleading vocals, ethereal soundscapes and low, low tempos.

It’s a concept album, following the dark spiritual journey of an isolated phosphorus mining town.

“The surreal element is that they’re mining phosphorus — it doesn’t make much sense,” said Cashen.

“Eventually these people isolate themselves to the point where they just can’t relate, they can’t connect to the rest of the world, so they just completely cut themselves off,” he said.

Yet while the album stands best as a unified whole, rather than a collection of songs — don’t be constrained by the phosphorus-mining-town narrative, says Cashen.

We Don’t Always Have Light, for instance, could be a perfect description of Whitehorse in December, instead of the desperate pleas of a dying town.

Besides, the lyrics play second fiddle to the album’s other sound elements.

“The vocals are not up front on this record, if you want to hear the words you’ve got to work,” said Cashen.

It’s art music, not pop music, said Cashen.

They Built Houses Here is best suited to a quiet night alone with a pair of headphones, rather than a car’s CD player on the way to work.

In the upstairs room of an empty house, hundreds of metres from the nearest human settlement, and surrounded by a treacherous moat of ice, Kyle Cashen comes to make his music.

“There’s so many opportunities to have 100-year-old houses host musical workshops — Whitehorse is pretty unique in that sense,” he said.

“There’s none of the typical get-a-warehouse-in-the-back-of-a-grocery-store-and-seven-bands-go-splits-on-it.”

A plethora of keyboards lie strewn about the room like lumber at a construction site. A rich assortment of pedals lay in obedient silence on the floor. Cashen sat at an old-fashioned wooden drum kit.

“My writing process is really solitary, I don’t play with many other musicians, and often you’ll notice that my band configurations are pretty minimal,” he said.

Crash the Car itself is a fluid entity, imbued with a steadily rotating cast of musicians.

Everything in the room is a machine for making sound, even if it doesn’t seem so at first glance.

A pile of old-fashioned suitcases against the far wall give the room the feel of a 1950s train station.

“They’re really useful because they’re indestructible, so I can use it to carry gear to a gig — and then once I’m there I can put a microphone in it and use it as a drum,” said Cashen.

Cashen picked up a former elementary school PA microphone and demonstrated that by clicking the ‘talk’ button while singing, it lends a staccato percussive quality to the voice.

A spherical yellow Hudson’s Bay Company vacuum cleaner seems to defy any acoustic possibilities, until Cashen popped open the top, grabbed a pair of drumsticks, and played it like a steel drum. The appliance is surprisingly melodic.

They Built Houses Here is laced with a wide variety of tiny sound intricacies that may very well escape the notice of the average listener, be they vacuum cleaners, suitcases, delicate female vocals or floor stomping.

But it’s not their fault, it’s the medium’s.

Cashen has essentially created an album built for vinyl whose subtleties are lost in MP3 and CD compressions.

Portability always pre-empts high-fidelity, says Cashen, but it’s important to be aware that you’re not getting the full product.

The entire album is available online, a move Cashen took to help eliminate the scourge of unappreciated CDs lining music collections across the country.

It’s also a non threatening way for newcomers to access Cashen’s unique style without having to commit to a $10 polycarbonate disc.

With every second of They Built Houses Here simply waiting to be sampled for free online, users can independently decide whether it fits into their own musical tastes. The power of hype is vanquished, be it from reviewers, friends or colleagues.

“I don’t want it to sit on a shelf somewhere, or for someone to buy it and feel ripped off … I want the people who buy it to be interested in it and legitimately like it,” he said.

Crash the Car’s official launch of They Built Houses Here is Wednesday November 19th at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre.

Contact Tristin Hopper at