Over the many months of delving into bands from the Midwest, I learned to take note of one man’s name above all else; Ann Arbor’s Jim Roll. I’m sure many of you are familiar with this wonderful man. He is not only a member of Drunken Barn Dance, but has also recorded some of the Midwest’s best including RFC favorites Chris Bathgate, Frontier Ruckus and Breathe Owl Breathe. One of his latest recording efforts was with Ann Arbor’s own Light In August (Though now based out of LA, but we know where lead man Alex Wand's roots are!) The sophomore effort Sweater Weather may run just around half an hour, but every minute is used to bring an understated richness from the album's nine tracks.
The opening track “Muse (Part I)” is a wonderful example of the type of album that Sweater Weather is. It takes an abundant blend of instruments; Rachel Woolf’s charming flute, Dan Piccolo’s tabla, front-man Alex Wand’s sitar and more; and sets the table for what is just an incredibly temperate and inviting album. This leads into “The First of May”, who’s muted strumming and gentle whistling combines with the lyrics to paint a picture of spring in full bloom. All the while Scott Brown’s upright bass walks us through fields of blossoming magnolias.
“Seraphim” and “Winter Clothes” feature backing vocals by Gun Lake’s very own Mark Fain. I found “Seraphim” very easy to love, not just because of the upbeat tempo and wonderful light percussion, but it connected me with you, the wonderful RFC reader base with lyrics like “across New England’s endless distance from Michigan”. A single tear falls from my cheek. Fin. Throughout the album, Alex Wand’s vocals reminded me a lot of Phil Elverum (The Microphones, Mount Eerie). Even when projecting, his voice has a very restrained, hush feel to it. I found this stood out the most on the album closer “Muse (Part II)”. The song is almost fully instrumental, like the opener, but has Wand uttering just one line at the end; “You are my muse”.
“Kahlela” is by far the most fascinating of all the songs to me. The sound of calm rain gives way to the gentle tapping of a cymbal and charmingly soft guitar plucking. Alex Wand leads off vocals and is joined by girlfriend Stephanie Layton as she softly sings a separate set of lyrics in the background. Each one is reminiscing of the other, remembering the time they met and the fleeting moments that they spent together. The chorus has both crooning “I remember how you made my day / I would chase you just to ask your name”. Though much of the album is full of romantic undertones, this song is so beautifully innocent that it just can’t escape my thoughts.
As I write this, I’m holed up in my apartment with a steaming mug of coffee by my side while two feet of snow is being dumped on us outside. Listening to this album as the snow collects on my windowsill is seemingly a perfect combination. It almost makes me forget (Heavy emphasis on almost…) about how upset I’m going to be when I have to drive to work in the morning over completely untreated roads. Sweater Weather definitely stands out in the crowd from other folk-pop releases. It’s understated and engaging, with beautiful and identifiable lyrical themes even the fussiest of folk fans can appreciate.