How irresponsible is it to sit on an album for over a year before you do something with it? Admit it: there are albums on your hard drive, or your phone, or maybe even under your bed if you have one, that you haven’t heard yet. The same applies in the world of music blogs, probably multiplied by some ridiculously high number. From the point of view of Andrew Maurer a.k.a. Slopes of Distant Hills, that idea is probably something less than attractive…but better late than never, he’s got an album out on insurgent Chicago label Luxotone that you should hear. If you like the idea of Bon Iver – angst-driven rusticity – but can’t stand the reality, this album is for you. Maurer’s voice has a fragile, breathy, anxious tone that contrasts with the steady dexterity of his fingers on the acoustic guitar. Some of the songs here evoke Nick Drake, others are more bluesy or bluegrass-oriented. As with everything Luxotone has put out, the production is rich and artful: producer/multi-instrumentalist George Reisch adds his usual terse, often poignant layers of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums.
The opening track is Sage Leaf, a minor-key blend of Britfolk and indie rock that builds to a lush crescendo of acoustic guitars: “Left the sea crumbling/Left the wind rustling.” It sets the scene for much of what’s to come. A folk-rock number, Sinking in My Heart builds to a hypnotic interlude and then picks up with yet another one of those intricately gorgeous passages with stately, incisive layers of guitars from Reisch: a little surf and some blues this time around.
Long and Dustry Trail sets pensive Drake-style pastoral imagery to an aptly nocturnal C&W tune: “I work in the town serving coffee to strangers; if they say something bright they could become my friends,” Maurer observes somewhat caustically. He blends the folk with oldschool soul on When Birds Fly, digs into Piedmont blues with Reason, then mines a Dylanesque Buckets of Rain vibe with Your Little Smile. Buddha Eye blends reggae with a trippy freak-folk feel and echoey Give Peace a Chance-style vocals and a completely unexpected hip-hop interlude; then he leaps into A Thousand Kisses, a catchy T-Rex style glam/folk anthem. The absolute stunner here is Anyone, a brooding, alienated, Arthur Lee-esque psychedelic folk number that winds up with a lusciously arranged guitar-and-keys outro. The album closes with Saved by Flight, an apprehensive, incisively fingerpicked acoustic blues tune. RIYL: Nick Drake, Love, the Zombies, Steve Kilbey’s solo stuff. And if some of the Deerhunter/Sufjahn Stevens/Bon Iver crowd catch on to this, so much the better.