It is unclear how The Creaky Trees ended up in Vermont. But whatever the circumstances, they certainly seem relieved to be living amid the splendor of the Green Mountains. In the “thank you” notes gracing the back cover of their debut full-length, Exile in Yellow & Blue — symbolism alert: yellow and blue make … green! — the recent Washington, D.C., transplants give thanks to friends and family before closing with this curious line: “…and Vermont, for being there for us when we needed her the most.”
Recorded in an old railway depot in Rupert, Vt., at times the disc feels like a feverish love letter to the band’s adopted home state. At others it’s a searching, existential elegy, taking sonic cues from the likes of Devendra Banhart and Fleet Foxes, while treading on the philosophical touchstones laid down by the Beat generation.
The album opens on “Talkin’ Breakneck Waters of Time Blues.” A loping acoustic guitar ambles underneath songwriter and bandleader Justin Carmody’s throaty growl. Gradually, airy vocal harmony and organ sustains from keyboardist Elish Healy trickle in, splashing against a rippling current of electric guitar. Tension builds slowly, ultimately released in a roiling flood of sound as Carmody howls, “I swear I’ll never drown in those breakneck waters of time / I’ll never reach forever and that’s just fine.”
The title track hums along like a freight train — maybe one that used to stop by the Rupert Depot? Carmody’s is a difficult voice to peg down. In moments, his borderline nasally delivery is reminiscent of John Fogerty, in others The Gourds’ Kevin Russell. Here, he evokes the softer tone of Nashville Skyline-era Dylan, which fits the song’s ethereal country-rock aesthetic.
Carmody surrounds himself with a shifting assortment of players — the disc features no fewer than seven backing musicians. By and large, Carmody employs his embarrassment of collaborative riches well, augmenting blues and folk roots with enough sonic intrigue to seduce the indie-folk set. However, at times the sheer volume of contributors becomes unwieldy, as on “The Great Landlocked Specter.” The song collapses under its own weight as ill-fitting parts fight for space amid the growing cacophony.
More often than not, though, the songs resemble “Old America, On the Corner, Smokin’ Pall Malls,” which builds around Carmody’s esoteric musings with sneaky, artful subtlety. By its swirling conclusion, you won’t be quite sure how you got there. But — much like The Creaky Trees themselves, it seems — you’ll be glad you did.
Catch The Creaky Trees at Nectar’s this Thursday with whiskey-grass trio Gold Town.