CD Release Party – High Noon Saloon, February 2nd
The enormous success of Bon Iver is likely to spawn a whole new generation of experimental folk artists, a genre that is already crowded with talent. Will Oldham may be the father of the movement with bands like the National and Band of Horses rising to prominence. Remember this name though: Brandon Beebe. In This Place is just being released and as a debut album it is startlingly developed both as an artistic expression and as an accomplished production.
Beebe plays several instruments, his primary tool being the acoustic guitar. He adorns his windswept compositions with lots of strings giving the music a chamber feel. Drums are used sparingly, Beebe opting for percussive instruments and handclaps much of the time. Only “She’s the Moon” gets the rhythm pumped up. Here electric guitars mix with a Latin-flavored groove. The closest thing to a pop song, “She’s the Moon” is the odd man out on the album.
The rest of In This Place is far more emotional and the instrumentation much more subdued. Like Bon Iver there are undercurrents of electricity in the form of eerily programmed keyboards and reverb-soaked guitar. This technique adds dimension to the sparse musical landscape and more than a degree of tension. The vocals, particularly the backing vocals, are often electronically treated, accentuating the mournful aspects of the songs. The gorgeous lament “Ashes” is a fine case in point. The vocal segment that opens the song sounds like wolves howling across a desolate plain. Gently finger-picked acoustic guitar and vocal are deceptive; a close listen reveals layers of delicate sounds that are simply a joy to delve into, despite the distressing nature of the lyric. At times Beebe can seem much older than his years. His lyrics are deeply felt and bear the mark of someone who has a lifetime of experiences to draw from. “My love, have we reached the point / Where the only way to go is down… An icy chill surrounds our heart…Embers fading into Ashes” are suggestive that the young man is learned in the ways of love; wise beyond his years.
Just when you think you’ve got a plaintive folk song you’ll get complicated chord progressions and passing tones such as the progression on “Future Memory.” Telltale signs of a songwriter with a special knack for inventing sophisticated melodies. “Gift/Outro,” which closes the album is another standout, straight-ahead strumming augmented with a vocal line that veers into falsetto, again recalling Bon Iver without going over the top. The song builds to a majestic climax before dissolving into reverb and delay as it fades down. It’s as though the music comes out of the ether and disappears again.
In This Place was recorded primarily by Brad Stubbe with a couple tracks recorded by Scott Lamps, who is becoming a strong force in production work around Madison. The strings were recorded by Tom Freeman. All deserve credit for the fine results as do DNA’s Mark Whitcomb, who mixed most of the album and Mike Zirkel (Smart Studios/Audio for the Arts) who also mixed a couple tracks. A strong release that is already destined for a “Best of 2012” entry, In This Place has set the bar very high.
Beebe will host a CD Release Party at High Noon Saloon on February 2nd.