Review Summary: The music of the frontier made relevant to the urban jungle.
Truth be told, I've been trying to find a way to review Lava Letter
for almost a month, now. Part of the issue in reviewing this, for me, is that it's something which feels natural to my ears, but totally alien to my taste. I'm not big on country or folk, but hot damn have this duo made me wake up and realize how much I love banjos in my music.
It's not just that, though. Yes, Lava Letter
is a very well-composed and played album that makes a very strong case for the guitar of the back porch bayou (and the farmhand's fiddle, for that matter), but the music put together by Zack Orion and Scott Murphy is more than mere composition and execution. It's visceral. Not nostalgic, visceral
. With the mountain man twiddling and Kentucky barefoot dancing an album like Lava Letter
can invoke, it can be easy to confuse the two, but this is an album which makes it apparent that it's no tribute to spoons slapped on knees while pappy grates the washboard.
No, Lava Letter
is an album which plucks true folk heartstrings in the 21st century. Part of that stems from simplicity: plucking those tinny banjo strings with fingers that must resemble rock more than flesh and starting a campfire worthy of any scout leader on the violin, the album is almost wholly reliant on two instruments and impassioned vocals which range from grizzled croons to yodels. Those wailings, which forgo any pretense and succeed solely on true passion, bring the old and the new together through the lyrics they deliver, too, with lines like "I'm just a program" fitting in just as well as "Bury Me"'s repeated, self-titled sentiment. But maybe it's the tempo that makes Lava Letter
seem such a perfect mesh of the old and new - adapting the inherent and essential human need for music on the frontier to the pace of the city. Whatever the case, the emotion is as clear as the music it's wrapped in. It's a sound that's frantic, yet familiar; new and exciting, yet as old as time.
That said, the album can begin to feel a bit samey after repeated listening, though the connection between album and listener never seems to wane. The inherent, primal humanity of the music presented here just seems too powerful to be denied. Couple the primary elements of the album's folk presentation with the strong yet incredibly subtle backing of drums and bass (truly appreciable on "SunFlower"), and we see Mountain Animation solidifying Lava Letter
as the transition from musical necessity played on rickety old wooden porches and meadows to visceral Folk played on concrete porches and balconies. It's music we all feel a connection to at some basic level brought out and made relevant to today. It's as simple as that.