Since releasing her last album over a decade ago, Ontario singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer has focused her efforts on environmental activism: co-founding the PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) organization to protect the Niagara Escarpment, demonstrating against major pipelines, and advocating for clean water transparency. But even before her activism became her central focus, the Ontario musician was using various strains of folk-rock—classic rock, folk, a ripple of honky tonk—to convey that same empathy and urgency for her surroundings.
A record shaped by modern uncertainties—yet showing resilience in the face of despair—Harmer’s new LP, Are You Gone, puts that spirit of compassion front and center. Though she’s still making the buoyant folk-rock her fans have come to love, on Gone, Harmer’s songs have a new feeling of unpredictability. Lead single “New Low” is a snapshot of a desperate world where there are “schools betting on fossil fuel.” Toward the end, a vibrant horn section bubbles forth, as if underscoring the absurdity of the situation.
Transformation and absence are pervasive throughout Are You Gone, as Harmer recalls faded memories and the turning of seasons. She contemplates a friend’s departure during a bittersweet night skate on “St. Peter’s Bay,” her recollections supported by delicately picked guitar; on “Little Frogs,” she cherishes the joy of outdoor wonders. Throughout, the songs on Are You Gone peer through the darkness until they locate the silver lining; everything is transitory, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsurmountable. Harmer’s greatest strength is in her vocal conviction and clarity. Are You Gone can be a melancholy album at times, but by turning the natural environment into a musical panorama, Harmer finds the strength to rise above.