Beer and Pavement

CoMusic Review: Ptarmigan – The Forest Darling

Posted in Records by SM on May 9, 2011

Here’s a review I wrote last week that was published over the weekend. I originally intended to have a beer post up, but Mother’s Day was a long day and left me without much time, energy, or motivation to finish the post. As you can see, I’m getting pretty deep into the local scene here as promised. It’s really sparked my overall interest in music lately. Surprisingly, it’s actually inspired me more when listening to new music by decidedly non-local bands. Still, there’s some good stuff here that stands on its own. The following review is no joke. Ptarmigan’s record is great, even if it doesn’t come in vinyl.

How is it that our little college town is blessed with so much great musical talent? Depending on your perspective, as long as these bands keep making music and don’t tour, they should remain our little secret forever. However, if a band like Ptarmigan takes their latest album, The Forest Darling, on the road, we won’t be seeing much of them anymore.

The Forest Darling is as good a record as I’ve heard this year. The trio pull from a wide array of influences to form a rather coherent eleven-song album that you should really check out. Those influences? The ones I hear and have read about include but are not limited to Peruvian forest sounds, early Modest Mouse, Born Ruffians, and The Flaming Lips. So, one can instantly see the appeal this record carries.

“Stillborn Kings” opens straight outta a mid-nineties Flaming Lips release before picking up the pace. The layered vocals create depth and complexity that is almost otherworldly. The song varies the tempo and has several pieces, all before building to a big crescendo and revealing some pretty fat/phat bass lines.

A steady groove carries “Where” with guitar licks floating just above the surface. Again, layers of vocals add to the overall musicality of the track. The bass lines really take hold in this track, revealing another aspect not often heard from a band that doesn’t include Mike Watt in their roster. There’s even some synthesized sounds in there that could easily make room for a horn section, demonstrating a rather high amount of diversity in just one track.

“Of the Hills and the Hurt” is a babbling brook. Intricate guitar noodling, keyboard flourishes, and tinny sounds I can’t quite place fill much of the space. Then, some noise comes just after the quiet, before settling into intricacies again.

The bass leads the way in “Primrose and Snapdragon” as sparse drumming joins the fray before some pretty ascorbic guitar work, falsetto, and a loud quiet dynamic that never grows old. To this point, this is the album’s shining, mid-tempo rocker du jour.

The somewhat bluesy “We the Forest” utilizes a nice start/stop dynamic that isn’t prevalent enough in rock music. This track is the most outward in regards to the forest theme with both its content and some well-placed bird samples. Maybe Patarmigan and Believers should get together for a bird sample competition. If you begin to notice a trend of bird noise in music, know that it started here in Columbia.

“Delta” is heavy on falsetto a la Caribou and some rock guitarin’ fun. So far, so good.

“The Quadrille” starts with hiking in the night forest before going all ragtag on you. Honestly, it’s my least favorite track of a stellar collection, but it also happens to be the most ambitious of the set. So, for that reason, they get kudos for taking some chances. Like most great music, it’s more interesting than bad. Certainly, this song deserves more discussion than this one paragraph.

“Sentient” opens like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah doing their best Cure impersonation and blows up into a Born Ruffians romp. If I haven’t convinced you yet to download this record, nothing will. This track is a real dancer as the guitar moves your feet and the bass your ass.

The best parts of Interpol are realized on the intro to “My Mind Bleeds” just before bassist and vocalist Peter Marting breaks in with some Denielson-esque whining. Guitarist Evan Walton actually carries this track with his dreamy guitar playing and drummer Ted Carstensen dutifully backs up as he does his best Jeremiah Green impersonation. Of all the tracks, musically this one reminds me most of early Modest Mouse.

“Migratory” starts with what sound like thunderstorms and some light acoustic guitar strumming. The dual vocals singing about a “southern feeling” are a nice touch that add more depth to a subtly great track. The song really picks up halfway through, complete with handclaps.

“Metronome” is a perfect ending to a great album. A slow build into a disco beat and quick tempo moves along until finally decomposing into a nice dance/rock song. The song breaks into a whole second part that just drives and grooves with subtle piano bits in the background.

This record is loaded with imagery and sounds from that aforementioned Peruvian forest. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes in your face. The aesthetic certainly pulls the entire piece together the way a good album should. Additionally, the multilayered vocal tracks and the up-front bass sets this record apart from many a indie rock release.

Ptarmigan demonstrate why three is a good number for a band. There’s balance between the three musicians in ability and dynamic. This is truly a gem that not enough people will hear and that’s okay with me. I like keeping local treasures a secret. However, I doubt they’ll stay that way for long if they keep putting out records like The Forest Darling.

Try a sample: Stillborn Kings (MP3)

Buy it: Bandcamp

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  1. […] -Zac Early, Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement […]

  2. […] I’ll say it again, Ptarmigan put out a great record that stands out locally or beyond. Read what I thought here and I’ll let that stand on its […]

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