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Big Tree | This New Year

Album review by John Powell

Big Tree | This New Year

This New Year is not only potentially Big Tree’s leap into the wider world of listeners, but is by far and away my top pick for album of the year. This New Year is spellbinding, from the first swirls of the opener to the racket of the end track. Kaila McIntyre-Bader’s lyrics are poetic without feeling contrived, and musical without feeling shallow. Thematically, the songs retain the discussion of travel, nature, and memory that the band’s totally indie debut LP did, only now they’ve moved home base from NYC to the Bay Area, brought in some new players, and have a lot of touring under their belt. The result is a sound one hundred percent familiar while treading new territory few bands of their nature venture into. Namely, the music is beautiful without any apologies.

Smartly, the credits read, “On this album Big Tree is”, as backing vocalist Madeleine Miller-Bottome was from the start knowing she was going abroad as a student. The group has had some line-up changes, but that’s only helped their family grow. They’s been working with drummer Colin Fahrner, bassist Luke Bace, and Kaila since the start, now with Danny Pirello, keeping similar tonal qualities to their debut set of tracks, but his organic and ethereal guitar play has a unique flavor. The band is so tight, adding hand claps and group sing-a-longs, twirling hints of rock, jazz, and blues into what can only be described as pop without the bubblegum.

Discussing the tracks here doesn’t feel fair, as one or two will definitely get neglected. Whether the refrain, “Everything used to be easy/now is so damn hard” on the title track or the stop-go slink of “Open Window”, Big Tree has a sense of melody and catchiness that deserves constant replay. Skip no tracks.

I will say this: any long-windedness that Kaila’s older lyrics had is gone, having refined repetition and “oohs” and “aahs” that’ll make you grin. “Open Window” offers some of the best lyrics. “For now I’ll be the smoke on your lips,” she sings. “For now I’ll be your Thursday night.” Now that the band has endured hardship and relocation, the words become a little less dreamy as their self-titled album suggested. The right amount of sarcasm and second-guessing exists, making Kaila vulnerable while keeping up her strong will.

Take “My first autumn away from home” (“Storm King”), or “I’m leaving but I don’t know where yet” (“Home (Here)”). Still, the passion for the simple things makes her irresistible, such as the nature-oriented titles, including “Woods”, “Two Seasons”, and “October”.

“October” is the final track and also the bullseye. Piano plunking keeps time like rain on a tin roof. The vocal harmonies are classic. Luke, Colin, and Danny offer backing vocals too. A new addition is utilization of horns- ever so perfectly- adding fun to the whole thing. Like Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop”, “October” needs about three lines repeated over growing instrumental intensity to make it zing. “I won’t believe we’re going somewhere,” Kaila finishes off, “’til I see the first day of November.”

Big Tree is one of the hardest working independent bands, trading in ego and entitlement for humble gratitude and pure love of music. For fans, This New Year is a highly anticipated release, and by no means a sophomore slump. If there’s any criticism it’s that they’re too lovable: a CD case made of simple cardboard (no plastic!), an eco-friendly tour van, and music about what’s really important. They conjure nostalgia and meanwhile hopeful future, all in one album’s worth of thought and feeling. Big Tree is exactly the music you’ve been missing in your life. What’s stopping you?

Bottom line: Album of the year.


0 # The Lazy Cocoon 2011-10-12 15:07
Big Tree are an amazing band and they have immense potential! Maybe that is why they were one of our featured artists for October 2011.. :)


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