[Ecstatic Peace; 2008]
Seeing as groups such as Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Yeasayer helped shape the sound of summertime with their popular psych-washed acoustic folk, it's unsurprising that similar sounding acts have begun to show up in the spaces between. Hush Arbors, a duo consisting of songwriter Keith Wood (contributor to records by Current 93 and Six Organs Of Admittance, along with many others) and his long-time collaborator Leon Dufficy, have actually been performing a lot longer than any of those acts-- almost a decade, in fact. So it's an ironic yet familiar tale that this recent wave of new music might help bring them belated attention. For those who haven't yet heard the band's delicate, experimental free-folk compositions, Hush Arbors
is a great place to start and adroitly encompasses all of the Virginia based duo's most engaging qualities.
While the mostly instrumental opening track of Hush Arbors
, "Water", does little to prepare the listener for what to expect from the rest of the album, it makes for a startling introduction. The barrage of ultra-fuzzed guitar drone provides a stylistic link to earlier releases, such as their 3" CD-R Cleaning the Bone
from 2005, and actually serves as a sonic cleanser of sorts. When the rivers of feedback fade, the music suddenly lifts and a common thread begins to unfold. There's a lot of gorgeous acoustic fingerpicking that promptly brings Bert Jansch to mind, although this is occasionally balanced by the electric guitar textures of Wood's pal in Six Organs of Admittance, Ben Chasny. On "Follow Closely", Chasny's barbed guitar lines actually highlight the character of the songwriting while bringing the vivid imagery of Wood's lyrics to life when he sings "It came swimming swiftly through her eyes and touched me gently, a double flame grew around her head/ She flicked her tongue and she kissed me on the lips, and I felt it burn, I felt it burn."
Stark and contemplative, "Rue Hollow" is the only track on the album to stick to acoustic guitar alone, and is outstanding due to its elegant simplicity. Wood has the unmistakable vocal inflections and sorrowful yet hopeful cadences of Mazzy Star on this song. Stringing falsetto across a carefully layered, circular guitar line, it is all the more impressive for being unembellished by other instrumentation. Wood clearly has a keen ear for knowing when to hold back and when to expand the possibilities of the song. "Sand" is one of the most melodically developed tracks on Hush Arbors
, and despite sticking to a fairly liner dynamic, the hushed, slow burn of delayed guitar hovering in the background like a string quartet gives movement to the music and grounds other melodic ideas as they shift in and out of the verses with contrasting shades.
Taking a full circle of sorts, the album closes with "Water II". There's a return to the dark, even hallucinogenic, sea of distortion that introduces the first track, but this time it's pierced with a rough, swirling riff that sounds as though it could overthrow everything going on around it. On this song, Wood gradually ties in the themes that have colored the album lyrically. Water, mountains, light, and mysterious women give weight to every track, brought to life by the ethereal, unpredictable cascade of sounds that take their place among them.