(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Certain albums are simply made for certain seasons. Bon Iver's stark For Emma, Forever Ago, while brilliant any time of year, just plays better when you're holed up in a cozy spot amid winter's icy grip. Father John Misty's Fear Fun, on the other hand, seems to exude a warmer haze when spun in steamy summer twilight. With their stirring sophomore release, Heavy as Lead, Burlington's DuPont Brothers have given Vermont audiences a record made for the rusty leaves and steely skies of fall.
As its title implies, there is indeed a weight about Heavy as Lead. Sam DuPont, a recovering addict, has long found inspiration in his battles with personal demons. It's no hyperbole to say that music saved his life — he began writing songs at a rehab clinic in Arizona. Prior to forming the duo, Zack and Sam DuPont endured a family crisis in which they nearly lost an older brother. Those emotional burdens, as well as musings on death and love both lost and found, inform much of their writing together. But, remarkably, these songs feel anything but burdensome.
On their self-titled 2013 debut EP, the DuPonts surrounded themselves with a formidable backing band whose nuanced talents transformed that work into something like a local answer to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter. On Heavy as Lead, the duo favors a spare approach, employing little more than voices and acoustic guitars. The Drake influence remains — particularly on songs such as "Antique Watch" and "Ride" — though it's more of a subtle accent now. The DuPont Brothers have found their voice, quite literally. In many instances, they blend so well, it's hard to discern who is singing what. And that symmetry manifests in every aspect of the recording.
When they started, Sam's songwriting bore a rough-hewn quality in comparison to the more refined and complex work of his older brother, Zack. That disparity was in some ways an asset, a tempering agent on both songwriters. But you could tell whose song was whose, and not just from who was singing. That's not the case on Heavy as Lead. As the duo's voices and guitars intertwine on cuts such as the tender "Transparent," the delicate "1000 Years Old" or ethereal album closer "Be Done," it's almost impossible to discern which is a Sam or Zack song. These are just DuPont Brothers songs, as lovely and elegant as could be.
Like so many great melancholy records before it, while downcast and introspective and rooted in emotional trials, Heavy as Lead synthesizes sadness into something beautiful and reassuring. It's an album made for sipping coffee on a brisk November day, maybe holding close someone you love. For, as Sam DuPont sings on "Colder," "We were made for colder weather."
The DuPont Brothers play a release show for Heavy as Lead at Signal Kitchen in Burlington on Wednesday, October 1, in support of Jay Nash.