The Yarrows | Plum (Empyrean)

cd_yarrows.jpgWhat truly pervades is a sense of patience; the band wants to nail a certain mood here, and they’re not the least bit interested in showing off their chops or proving how diverse they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes a record doesn’t have much in the way of variety, but manages to achieve a particular consistency of mood that establishes it as something special. That’s the case with the debut full-length by The Yarrows, a New Jersey quartet headed by guitarist/vocalist brothers Pierce and Matt Backes. The bio of this band is instructive: they formed in a once-abandoned lodge located in a huge wilderness area outside Lambertville, N.J. So that meant they could rehearse and nurture their creative impulses with nothing but the sound and ambience of the deep woods to stoke their imagination.

You can almost hear that sort of mood on Plum, a ten-song collection about empty spaces, both literally and figuratively. Just about everything here is slow, drifty and vague—but that doesn’t make it boring. The Backes brothers utilize their guitars as texture generators; chords hang in the air or progress slowly, but they’re big and evocative enough to hold your attention. And the vocals—often mixed down or virtually in the background – have a tentative quality to them, an aching naturalism that puts the personal above the musical. It works quite well, if you prefer your music honest and organic rather than polished and precise.

"Nobody Knows You’re Gone" and "Queen of the Air" are melancholy, languorous compositions that certainly seem fixated on the barren corners of memory and sadness. "Nobody knows you’re gone/ Weightless now over roofs and raindrops…all the silent changes…nobody ever knows," sings Pierce (presumably) in the former tune, which doesn’t really have a musical arc, but instead simmers like the mood in which it was probably written. In "Queen," the words "I laid down the ghost of you" are sung over and over, followed eventually by "to be here," and although information is still missing, it’s clear our vocalist/protagonist is haunted by someone, rather deeply.

A quintessential track here is "Time to Go," which is memorable for its willful vagueness and minimalist construction. Every verse begins with "It’s time for you to go/ Your friends won’t tell you so," and that’ll have you thinking about those lines and what they pertain to long after you’ve heard the song. Jack Firnenon’s martial drums at the beginning of "Cellophane" grab your ears, as do the unexpectedly sharp-edged electric guitar work and instrumental workout that grace the concluding "Diamond," which would seem to indicate that the Backes have a few Neil Young & Crazy Horse records in their collection, even though soloing is a rarity on this disc.

What truly pervades is a sense of patience; the band wants to nail a certain mood here, and they’re not the least bit interested in showing off their chops or proving how diverse they are. That’s admirable, but it would be less so if the emotional content weren’t as high and if the sheer sound of the record didn’t prove so hypnotic in its wearily lonesome way.

"I scatter I gone strange to my own person…My eye scattering light like a diamond," sings Backes near the end of this platter, in his fractured, but evocative manner. Somehow it sums up the record…wistful, sad and more personal than mere words can convey. The Yarrows acknowledge life’s tendency to induce rumination, and the cumulative sound of this platter may do the same for the attentive listener. B | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Tindersticks, Band of Horses, Mojave 3

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