It’s difficult to place a label on exactly what this latest cassette offering from Rochester’s Cae-sur-a label is. April in the Orange’s In the Mirror Under the Moon, at first, comes across as something within the so-called ‘freak-folk’ vein. It certainly has the trace elements, such as simple song structures with lazily strummed, easy chord progressions backed by spacier, meditative soundscapes. But to apply that label to this Michigan duo would unfortunately lump them in with a certain group of artists that shall not be named and are currently popular on the college rock radio stations; the inappropriately named ‘indie’ bands that sleepwalk their way through their own songs. Those types of bands are much too sweet, much too polished, much too… palatable.
Which isn’t to say that Samantha Linn and Andrew Barrett’s dual-guitar and duet vocals are unpalatable; in fact, they’re overall sounds is much more enjoyable than other contemporary acts of their ilk. This group tends to be quite a bit darker; even when most popular indie bands these days get ‘dark,’ they’ve still been polished so much that they’re positively sparkling. Not so here; songs like “To a Lost Family” are truly unsettling in a subtle yet noticeable way. The dissonance in the articulation of the acoustic guitar comes and goes in a way that you can anticipate exactly when it will be coming back. Yet, it still feels haunting and slightly nerve-wracking each time.
“Same Old Mystery” is one of the more propulsive tracks; the guitar, while still relatively mellow, stomps along, underpinning a yearning for love. A fuzzy guitar punctuates the phrases with little fills that are ever-so-slightly metrically off, demonstrating that despite the simple declarations of desire within the song, there is something deeper and darker going on underneath. These desires have disinterred more complex and perhaps darker emotions as well, emotions that are brought to the surface by the distant droning of some primal energy in the song’s bridge.
“Outsideinsideeverywherenowhere” starts off in perhaps the most placid way possible; by mimicking a slow, tremolo-laden phrase that sounds like it came off a doo-wop record from the ‘50s. It slowly picks up, little by little, adding short, jagged stabs of a second guitar. The pace quickens, ethereal, seemingly wordless backing vocals enter as the chorus is repeated infinitely like the mantra of a cult waiting for the apocalypse. A third guitar enters, this one more violent than before. The vocals become more and more disheveled, the guitar solo more dissonant and frantic until the whole thing sputters out, leaving one final, less perturbed recitation.
The final track, “Morning Never Came,” is an epic thirteen-minute recording that perfectly closes out the cassette. The beginning of the song is much like the other, with a quiet folk arrangement of guitar and gentle keyboards. It introduces a few more keyboards, swooping and bubbling underneath the guitar, slowly coming up in the mix before receding as the vocals reenter. This pattern repeats a few times before the vocals and acoustic guitar suddenly drop out for good and a mix of swirling, effects-laden instruments step in to pick up the slack. Tiny little melodies can be picked out here and there, and the overall effect is one of serenity. Slowly and steadily, bits and pieces of dissonance are pulled in and out. Just as things seem to be at their most calm and reserved–when the listener has been able to settle into a nice, tranquil lull of comfort–another guitar enters, this time angry. Whereas the other instances throughout the album were merely disturbing, this one is truly frightening, like the destructive buzzing of a mechanical wasp’s wings. It gets louder and louder as the listener gets more and more claustrophobic. But it carries on for several full minutes until the tension is almost unbearable. Finally, the tension breaks with a single strum of a resolving chord, and the album is over.
So for those of you who want something in a similar vein to all of those other indiefolk bands that are, underneath the surface, just kids getting high on cough syrup, give this a spin. Judging by just how bleak things can get without even rising above a whisper, this duo is on something else entirely.
Review by Liam McManus