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

Monday, March 7, 2011

CD review - Scattered Trees, Sympathy (2011)

Grief is a deeply personal process. Often, we find ourselves embarrassed in its presence. When Scattered Trees' front man, Nate Eiesland, lost his father, his response was to write his way through the loss. Sympathy is his emotional tribute. The sound is strikingly expressive; Eiesland's vocals are laid bare with raw vulnerability. For all that, it's surprisingly easy to take in. The songs are confessional and sincere. Scattered Trees have avoided the sins of mawkishness and self-indulgence to create a powerful album.

The individual songs are strong, but the flow between them is even stronger. Four Days Straight starts out softly but quickly shifts into an indie rocker with good dynamics. This drops into the sparse acoustic beginning of Sympathy, whose dreamy edges contrast nicely with the previous track. Five Minutes takes on a falsetton Trip Shakespeare groove and softly descends into the soft interlude of Where You Came From.

Sympathy has a range of musical sounds: bits of Wilco's Americana, Bright Eyes' folky simplicity, and Guster's indie rock spirit. The indie rock drive plays a big part in keeping the mood from becoming too heavy. Take, I Swear To God, which deals with the anger stage of Eiesland's grief. Its confrontational lyrics ("You're the only one that could have saved him, well you could've but you let him go") and driving beat turn his pain into a kind of affirmation.

My favorite track, though, is Love and Leave. The verses have that Jeff Tweedy directness. The bridge opens up into a lusher sound, with a huge cymbal wash. The emotional build out of the bridge into the "I'm crazy, I'm going crazy" section channels Trail of Dead's intensity to create a strong climax for the song.

Lyrically, the album talks of loss, leaving, and desertion. Many of the songs seem focused on romantic relationships at first, ignoring the context of Eiesland's father. That's part of why Sympathy is easy for us to hear and connect with. It lets us all relate to his feelings without embarrassment. In honor of Mr. Eiesland, I'll raise a toast of Pilsner Urquell, mildly bitter with some malt to balance.

Sympathy is scheduled to release April 5 on Rollcall Records/EMI.

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