The Great Albatross
by Chad Jewett
The Roots, the new EP from bedroom-pop duo and Count Your Lucky Stars signees The Great Albatross, begins with broad, minimal strands of major key ambiance; trace a pastel crayon across a long sheet of paper and you have the idea. The rest of the album is similarly drawn, similarly evocative of home-bound arts-and-crafts, living room projects with out-of-door ambitions. Songs are ascetically built, but bigger worlds and richer palettes cycle in the margins. One might imagine these songs unfolding by a kitchen window, the corona soundscapes at the edges of The Roots as the woods “out there” (indeed, the title is suitably arboreal) — mystical and lush, worlds to be guessed at past the frame.
The record has the sort of incidental charm; serendipitously, songs begin with spare acoustic strums and singer A. Wesley Chung’s sun-worn low-tenor and slowly unfold from the outside in like the edges of time-lapse photography. At times, The Roots has the quality of a developing Polaroid. Take the gorgeous, twilit “Roots,” with its compact major-key chords that are soon fogged over with tinkling keyboards and soft-focus studio haze. Elsewhere, “Righteous Man” evokes the aged, bucolic indie of Cub Country, a thumped bramble of acoustic guitars laced with the twang of pedal-steel, echoed to canyon proportions like a distant memory. Happily, The Great Albatross avoids last year’s vogue for stomp-and-emote Target folk-pop by letting impressionist detail and dramatic patience trump the kind of rustic sing-songs that are currently showing up in Dairy Queen ads.
“Man of Dust” closes with a similar design of wispy guitar and a swirling background of sweetened abstraction. Yet the song also surprises by being willing to break up its own steady trickle with breaks of bending violins and long passages of near-shapeless soundscape. The song clarifies what one would like to hear from The Great Albatross the most – an even greater willingness to allow the oaken surfaces of A/B/A/B folk music to recede further under the stunning vistas that make the band special. The Great Albatross’s songs are strong enough to pull the blanket up even further, to figure out the duo’s folk constructions from beneath even more sonic modernism. The Roots is an album that excels when it allows itself to be at its most beautifully ephemeral.