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Album Review: A Box of Stars, 'Days Drunk Off Heat'

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A Box of Stars, Days Drunk Off Heat
  • A Box of Stars, Days Drunk Off Heat

(Self-released, digital download)

A Box of Stars emerged from the Green Mountain College arts community — or, as the folk band refers to its home turf, "western Vermont." The Poultney campus looks like a movie set, surrounded by mountains and nestled against the New York State border. I can't shake the feeling that view had a profound effect on the group's debut EP, Days Drunk Off Heat.

As subgenre buzzwords go, "dream folk" is refreshingly transparent. It sounds just like you'd expect: haunting, unabashedly pretty and drenched in sweet, sweet reverb. Musically, the band centers on the interplay of vocalists Claire Londagin and Macaulay Lerman, who previously worked together in the folk band Ava Marie. (Lerman also plays guitar in "doom sludge" outfit Mine Is a Black Mouth.)

Album opener "Cornfields" is a low-key reverie that starts with nothing but guitar and vocals, gradually unveiling the dynamic range of this young band. From the hypnotic percussion of the middle movement to the crashing waves of the outro, it's a long, delightful ride. It also introduces Jens Hyberston's gorgeous violin work — his spare touch is the band's secret weapon.

The EP's tone opens up into straightforward pop rock on the second track, "Sunshivers." Behind Tim Halteman's skittering drum break, the band delivers a wistful, soaring college-radio hit. It's solid but also perhaps the least interesting song on the album.

The group really etches out its manifesto on the EP's middle stretch. "Tongue Tied" is a dark, beautiful song rendered in slow motion. "Migratory Birds" sounds like it was recorded underwater. That's a compliment: The laid-back waltz sounds like a dub remix of the Cowboy Junkies. The triptych ends with "Virgins," a perfect, timeless slice of melancholia.

With a sound carved from weird noises and effects pedals, A Box of Stars is most impressive for its authors' restraint. From a roar to a whisper, every choice on this album serves the songs; it's a confident, carefully honed set. Recorded at Woodridge, N.Y., retreat/studio the Outlier Inn with veteran engineer Josh Druckman, the EP's sound quality is exquisite.

The project also illustrates that the band has more horizons to explore. On "The Leaving," vocalist Londagin steps out on her own and ... well, that should happen more often. She's a gifted stylist, and her ghostly tone perfectly suits this band. Closing cut "Static Companion" is a rock workout that balances the pop songwriting of "Sunshivers" with the more cinematic approach that defines the rest of the EP.

A Box of Stars are an unusually mature young band with a real gift for making their songs breathe. Days Drunk Off Heat is a promising project, an EP that makes an album-size statement.

Days Drunk Off Heat will be available on Saturday, September 22, on Soundcloud.

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