The Letter C
Artist: Umbrella Tree
Time was that the label “indie” meant nothing more than a brave band had cast off the need or ability to be co-opted by a major label. It was generally agreed upon that New Rose by the Damned was the first punk indie single. After that, the world changed. The DIY ethic produces hundreds of great bands and great music. Somewhere along the line the indie ethos was slowly distilled into more of a sound rather than a modus operandi. Now it seems that if you listen to a critic's darling indie band, more likely as not, they are either lo-fi, whimsical acoustic, or something akin to nursery rhymes for inducing opium like nightmares for troubled children. Like Pet Sounds and twee British folkies became the blueprint for a great number of the releases.
My first listen to Umbrella Tree began with much of my preconceived baggage being reinforced. The lo-fi production; the odd, lilting character of the vocals that lope dreamily behind the music; the completely obtuse lyrical content etc; but, get to “Starfish”, and all bets are off. Wow, what a positively gorgeous song! On repeated listens, the song makes you feel like you're watching a high school musical where the brainy, talented but rather plain young lady gets her day in the sun for one song and just wins the hearts of every lonely, nerdy guy (and a few of the jocks but they'd never admit it). It is just so stinkin' pretty. I suspect it's about a young pop icon, no names are mentioned but overall it's melancholy and beautiful. That always works for me.
The rest of the album grew on me. At times it almost feels like XTC, not that it really sounds like them although they were the quintessential left handed British new wave pop band, endearing but in an off kilter way. The production feels like it was done “in house” and these are talented folks constructing these fractured fairy tale songs, almost an Edward Gorey feel at times although probably a bit less bleak. There are snippets of things that remind me of early Genesis, ala Harold the Barrel, again, not in songwriting or musical references but in the feel of the compositions. Piano, vocals, bass, guitar and drums form the foundation of the music, but there are all sorts of other things tossed into the cauldron.
In all this is moderate to high praise for a release that I was predisposed not to give much time to. I hope they continue to release ambitious and epic music like The Letter C.