Sarah Harmer — ‘Are You Gone,’ 4/5

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The world looks much different than it did the last time Sarah Harmer released a record. Ten years on from Oh Little Fire, Harmer returns with Are You Gone, a joyously melodic record that feels graciously at odds with the chaos it finds itself in.

Luckily for us, Harmer’s wit and sense of harmony remain intact. Are You Gone picks up where its predecessor left off, though more muscular and dynamic than before.

The driving, clean rock of songs like “Take Me Out” and “New Low” are exciting evolutions in Harmer’s sound, taking the folk-pop of her previous work to tougher, more energetic heights.

Harmer remains a consummate storyteller, capable of clever turns of phrase and specificity that keep these songs from succumbing to facelessness — every song feels genuinely lived in, a piece of personal history.

Through the gentle sway of “Squeaking Voices,” the blooming harmonies on “The Lookout,” the buzzing synths of “Wildlife,” the LP plays with a variety of sounds without ever feeling scattershot or half-baked, each subtle detour grounded by Harmer’s expressive voice and rich storytelling.

Are You Gone is at its strongest where it plays with Harmer’s formula, eschewing the gentle acoustics or brasher fare. The roiling “Shoemaker” is the record’s crown jewel, a masterclass in tension and release that opens gradually over its four minutes.

Still, songs like the silvery closer “See Her Wave” show that Harmer remains more than capable of crafting a simple country-folk song of uncommon depth.

Are You Gone is the kind of record to lose yourself in, to acquaint yourself with its characters and weather, to find some piece of yourself in its rich Canadiana.

Even if it takes another 10 years, it’ll be worth the wait to be invited back into Sarah Harmer’s little worlds.