Within the earthy, baroque psychedelia of his 3rd album, Amok, Declan O’Donovan meditates on losing track of time. It’s a phenomenon we’re all intimately familiar with—”a pedestrian and profound thing to do,” as the Yukon songwriter puts it. Amok is hardly a linear narrative, though, with a beginning, middle, and end; the album and the characters who populate it twist and pull time, fall out of it and into it, find themselves transformed by it. Songs go off the rails and expand themselves defiantly as O’Donovan inhabits their narrators—a hospital patient; a character in an Edgar Allen Poe story; people trapped on sinking ships or floating in space with satellites and dark matter.
“I lived on the Californian coast, hiked through the boreal forest, borrowed from friends and family, stole from Exodus and Joseph Campbell,” O’Donovan says. “I lit a fire, fell asleep, got woke, got high, got Covid, got angry at the church, lost my keys, and split the atom.”
Throughout it all, perhaps because of it all, “time gets disrupted, reveals itself to be uncontrollable,” he says. “Runs amok.”
Amok takes sonic cues from the places it was born in, geographically and mentally. It bends, sometimes, toward grandeur, like the vast and mountainous terrain surrounding O’Donovan’s hometown of Whitehorse, where most of the songs were written. It trades in a lushness of sound that recalls the all-encompassing greenery of Vancouver Island, where it was recorded. And it reels with a similar terror and revelatory spirit that descended upon O’Donovan during a mushroom trip in the rainforest on that same west coast before he began writing these songs. Amok frequently pushes back, too, against 21st-century isolation, investigating its effects and building something to snuff them out. Against the heaviness, O’Donovan arms himself with a healthy dose of irreverence, never taking himself too seriously. Over the jaunty piano of “Maggie,” there’s even something to find joy in as the west coast slips into the sea: “Though California’s done for, we can see the ocean from our front door.”
Maybe it’s most accurate to say the album unravels as O’Donovan makes his way through its nine tracks. The shadowy “Within the Pale” eases us into things with a slithery groove that gives way to a spacey outro carried by a fuzz guitar melody. O’Donovan dreams a dream of catastrophe on the apocalyptic, slow-burning “Every Revolution Around the Sun;” he drives “Get Thee Behind the Wheel” with a piano line that rolls like a waterfall; he meditates on how the present might affect our future on the sombre “Many Years From Now;” and he wraps the shadowy “All the World Above You” with a few lines that sum up what’s really behind our anxieties about death: “I’m not afraid of where I’m going, but I’m afraid to leave—for once I’ve left this mortal coil, how will you then tug upon my sleeve?”
“Maggie” immediately lifts things up with its troubled but sun-kissed psych-pop. The anti-ballad “People That We All Know” celebrates solidarity in the kindred strangeness of another, while “God Fearing Men” quietly seethes against hypocrisy with its low rumbling Wurlitzer. Finally, O’Donovan closes the curtain on Amok with “More Was Said Than Done,” a nearly 10-minute epic that begins with earthbound piano and spins out and up into a blissful, otherworldly dream.
We all lose track of time, get lost in time, struggle with our places in the world. Amok recognizes the miraculousness and mundanity of existence. As O’Donovan asserts: it’s all as pedestrian as it is profound.