(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CD review - We Are Trees, Boyfriend (2010)

It's tempting to dismiss We Are Trees' Boyfriend at first listening. James Nee's diffident vocals and the easy listening retro pop vibe don't inspire a fiery response. The music is rhythmic and reflective, but not particularly moody. The languor and the simple acoustic guitar central sound drift mildly into your ears. If you've relegated it to background music, then it serves as a kind of sonic wallpaper.

It's only when the songs are given proper attention that they yield their true value. The surface of laid back indie pop proves to be a veneer on top of richly subtle arrangements. Every element in the mix seems well thought out and perfectly in place. The rich dynamics and careful layering suggest more of an artistic approach than a pop musician's simplicity. My only critique is that the higher pitched vocal tone and reverby wash can make it difficult to pull out the words.

Sunrise Sunset starts with a steady acoustic strum and tight wordless background harmonies. But with the slowly building swell of a cymbal sound, the arrangement takes on depth. The metallic sound of the cymbal wash seems almost crystalline. The drums are low enough in the mix that the complex syncopation doesn't stand out at first, but this is also revealed on the deeper listening. Layers accrete: multiple string parts and polyrhythms. Where many bands would use a low fi mix to meld this all together, We Are Trees keeps the sonic clarity of all of these facets intact.

Persistent acoustic strums, relaxed vocal delivery, string melodies, interesting drum arrangements, and judicious use of reverb -- The other three tracks maintain the continuity of sonic elements, but each creates its own edifice from the parts. On Daniel, it transitions from hazy fog to reveal the sharper edged architecture of a staccato violin figure. Dear Chan Marshall shows off a heavy handed acoustic guitar chunk-chunk, with a bit of snaky strings drifting in and out. Final Round is more drowsy dreamy, with some nice cymbal work accenting the guitar.

Give Boyfriend a chance to soak in and your ears will be rewarded. The music is as deceptively simple as a fine K├Âlsch.

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