By Shain Shapiro
Antlerand is proof that long-distance relationships can, in fact, work out for each participant. While guitarist and songwriter Chris Larson was in Portland, his accomplice Zach Ogun was in Phoenix studying music production. By trading sounds and licks by mail, the band continued to record under the moniker Invisible until Ogun lost his job in Phoenix and was convinced to move to Portland, where the duo found drummer Delaney Kelly and changed their name to Antlerand. After quietly and independently releasing a debut EP under their old name, the trio inked a deal with Seattle-based Sound Family Records and uncorked their debut full-length Branches, a richly textured gem that should see itself clogging up year-end top ten lists, if enough people hear it.
An innumerable number of bands are embodying the same musical aesthetic that Antlerand emanates, creating a bevy of unique interpretations worthy of actually being labeled "original." Utilizing symphonic elements, like borrowing from the overture and fugue ethos that has grounded composers for centuries amidst personal, introspective lyricism, pop ingenuity, and post-rock prowess, artists like The Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, and the whole Barsuk records crowd have proved that pop music can not only be smart but devilishly stylish at the same time. Branches is just as smart and stylish as all the aforementioned, as Antlerand has crafted a package that is utterly entrancing and filled with think pieces, reasons to smile, time to dance, and slow-moving moments to ponder all at once. Abound with harmonic soundscapes, cloudy percussion, and opulent transitions, especially in the opening track "Rows of Unbending Lines" and "On Their Screen," Branches is a feast for the ears as well as for the emotions, as spurious violins, crashing cymbals, and subtle piano tinges roll through plateaus of simple, folk-infused ballads laced with symphonic chord-progressions, syrupy vocal harmonies, and lovingly tattered rhythmic punches. Multi-textured like an overcast day, Branches revolves around a number of different themes crying out for attention, whether in the form of sunlight or a thunderstorm. Ferociously angry at times but sometimes dreamy and subdued, Branches, like its namesake, showcases something different depending on how the listener is approaching it. Simultaneously, it could give way to a cathartically uplifting experience for one soul while encouraging the utter demise of another.
Throughout the listen, cinematic metaphors keep reinforcing the songs, relating back to things done wrong, right, not done at all, or should have never been done in the first place. At times, Branches could have easily assumed the soundtrack role for the love-coddled protagonist fighting his or her way through an emotional coming-of-age flick. "Now It’s A Year" reminds of how many opportunities have been squandered away in self-aggrandizing fashion without proper care, while the short, piano-tinged "I Love You Like Forgetting" functions as a sort of self-actualizing rebirth where one realizes that no matter how many times things went wrong or unsaid, there is always time to make amends. In addition, "Brighter Rays" is as penetrative as a deep scratch, while "Not the Next Anything" is as bright as the Nebraskan’s eyes have ever shone, showcasing just how beautiful music can be when nothing, no matter how fragile, is left unexplored. This is a must-have, and like many of its stylistic brethren coagulating the indie-meet-mainstream music community like Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, and the Postal Service, Branches is just as powerful in its down moments as it is when it is trying to be uplifting. This exhibits an age-old adage we, as emotionally benign individuals, often forget. Sadness and jubilance are correlated - one cannot exist if the other disappeared, long distance or not.
JamBase | Portland
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