chauntelle rising fawn1Under the name Rising Fawn, Eisley’s Chauntelle DuPree D’Agustino brings to Sifting Through Sadness a delicate but gutsy sound, full of wistful melodies, tonal shifts, airy, ethereal vocals, evocative soundscapes and a melancholy but romantic ambiance.

Sifting Through Sadness
Rising Fawn (Chauntelle DuPree D’Agustino)                                                  
Label: Equal Vision Records / RORY Records
Time: 10 tracks / 51:40 minutes

Everything about the debut solo project from Chauntelle DuPree (aka: Chauntelle DuPree D’Agustino) is as other-worldly, haunting, and slightly-psychedelic as the early albums released by Eisley, the uniquely surrealist-pop band formed in the late 90s by Chauntelle and her two sisters, Sherri and Stacy. Under the name Rising Fawn, Chauntelle brings to Sifting Through Sadness a delicate but gutsy sound, full of wistful melodies, tonal shifts, airy, ethereal vocals, evocative soundscapes and a melancholy but romantic ambiance.

Produced to perfection by Todd D’Agustino and mixed and mastered by MuteMath’s Darren King (the former, Chauntelle’s husband, the latter, her brother-in law), Sifting Through Shadows establishes a unique sound that stands apart from current establishment formulas. Staying with mostly guitar, drums, bass, and piano, and occasionally augmented by tastefully-discreet cello and viola, the project has a rich, deep sound that allows you to fall into the stream of each song without drowning in a cacophony of producers’ tricks. The first track, “Shadows,” is a fine example of all of this at work – the dreamy melody delivered by Chauntelle’s zephyr-like vocals floats over the instruments (this time, also including a mellotron-like effect). The dramatic shift from a minor to a major key in the bridge makes for a surprising and beautiful moment – one of many on the album.

One interesting thing that you’ll notice is that Chauntelle, who doesn’t take lead vocal parts much (in concert, at any rate), sounds amazingly like early Eisley. On “Cedar Branches,” you might think you’re listening to an Eisley out-take. The tip-off that it's not would be the smoky, mysterious-sounding production, particularly near the end (after the interesting middle-eastern-tinged piano work by Mark Schwartzkopf), with Chauntelle singing, “I can’t fix you / You’ve always been broken. I can’t believe you / you’ve always been a liar,” filtered to sound eerily ominous and not nearly as innocent as the music produced at the start of the siblings’ careers.

The album’s title-track is a wonderful journey through the emotions – a melodic wide-eyed look at hopes, dreams, disappointment, and walking through the valley. At times, melancholy, at times almost ecstatic, the floaty vibe is delightfully interjected with uncredited pizzicato strings – a deceptively complex piece. This is followed by the instrumental track by Todd, appropriately titled, “Spector.” Featuring electric guitars and ‘miscellaneous noises,’ the atmospheric, droning three and a-half minutes is a nice resting place in the center of the album – an ambient experiment that works as part of the emotional tone of the whole work.

“Of All The Charms” is an ambitious and very beautiful song with lyrics that are psalm-like in their flow, and music that’s lilting and complex at the same time.

The jazzy, musically sophisticated “Ours For The taking,” follows – a love song that says, “We are not the same as we once were / surprising / And I’ll Keep choosing you / baby, you’re stuck with me.” Todd supplies a nice, jazz-toned guitar solo at the end, employing some Keaggy-like flourishes.

“Forsaking Calamity” brings a positive ending to the soul-searching, even with an ode to our fragility screamed out at the end, under the gathering intensity of Darren King’s drums – a strong admission of our need for God in every relationship

The ‘bonus track,’ an instrumental piece called “Hempstead,” is an ambitious multi-part composition that fills the last twelve minutes of the album. Worthy of being more than just a ‘bonus,’ the piece starts as a somber, minor-key piano and string étude to end as a raucous, full-blown rock experiment. It’s a worthy addition to this interesting and often experimental album and an unexpected surprise.

Sifting Through Sadness is full of great songs with many wonderful performances, and establishes a strong musical identity for Chauntelle on her first solo outing. The album is full of good musical moments: the banjo / key runs on “Wake Up,” the fine drumming on “Cedar Branches,” the rhythmic shift and interesting hand-claps on “Of All The Charms,” (a stand-out track), the surprisingly hard-core ending of “Forsaking Calamity” ( “From dust you made these shells / To cradle our fragile selves / We’re alive, alive!”) ... the obvious hard work that went into this project has produced an album of enough quality and interest to make me look forward to more of the same in the future. A very strong debut from a familiar voice.

- Bert Saraco

4 1/5 TOCKS.