We live in an age where any number of genres can be fused into a new subgenre. For every straightforward blues-rock trio, there are 15 post-hardcore-doom-prog-ambient groups out there. But as we all know, it ain’t the label that matters most, it’s the quality of the product. Fortunately, the Branches not only find the right combination in their new album, “White Flag,” but also deliver the goods.
This is a folk record by way of modern indie pop: think Peter, Paul and Mary singing Arcade Fire tunes. The sounds often veer between electrified anthems in songs like “Burn” and quiet acoustic numbers like “It Won’t Be Long.” You are also likely to encounter the gentle fingerpicking of a banjo, as you are spaced out organs and wailing guitar lines. On paper, it sounds dubious, but in practice, it’s fabulous.
Of the 12 songs on this record, each benefits immensely from a tight sense of control and a wide open soundstage in which each part plays an essential and dynamic role. The interplay of the instrumentation and three part harmonies, which make the PP&M comparison ever apt, and the mix of genres compel on the first listen. The counterpoint vocals by Natalie Nicoles against the more dominantly male sound only accentuate this wonderful sense of interdependence and general balance.
While I’ve heard all these elements before, it is always refreshing to hear a group that is unabashedly themselves letting loose. Each track feels like an anthem to shout, while retaining the warm-breath intimacy of a summer night beside a beach and a fire with only an acoustic guitar and love to keep company.
The counterpoint vocals by Natalie Nicoles against the more dominantly male sound only accentuate this wonderful sense of interdependence and general balance.
The record isn’t perfect, however. These various combinations, while wonderful in their own right, don’t always create a sense of variety across the whole record. At a number of points, there is a repetitiveness in the emphasis on straightforward drumbeats and the way a certain swell occurs. More than that, the songs all have, more or less, the same musical progression. The effect dulls the otherwise spotless production, sound, and songwriting. The moments that do veer from the straightforward path are the richer for their changes, but those moments are rarer than I’d like.
But these guys have a voice, and they know how to use it. I’d love to walk with this album, and watch the sunset, so I think I can forgive it.
Until a spark sets my heart on fire
7,7780 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars