I didn’t watch this year’s Oscars but I don’t live under a rock either so it was impossible not to hear about them. Besides the obvious controversy of the nominees, there was the big news that Leonardo DiCaprio had finally won the Oscar for best actor. It had taken him years, and many questionably great performances to have finally reached the stage to collect this long coveted prize that often eludes many working in that medium. And in that moment when he stood on stage to address a crowd of millions he could have said anything he damn well pleased. So what subject did he choose to address? Well just in case you happen to live under a rock the answer is climate change, a cause that the actor has been vocally passionate about for many years.
And though it’s nice to have a well-known voice to speak to millions about your cause for a few moments on television one shouldn’t forget the lesser known voices who gather around the world trying make a difference themselves and spread the word about saving our environment. That is precisely what the Seattle by way of upstate New York alt-folk duo Animals of Grace, 12-string guitar player and classically trained vocalist Erika Lundahl and percussionist Doug Indrick attempt to accomplish with their music. Their latest release Songs of Shattering is a concept album in the vein of fellow Seattle musician Jason Webley's Margaret which was inspired by a book of poems and photographs Webley found in a dumpster in San Francisco.
For Songs of Shattering Animals of Grace channels the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, using Millay’s poetry for lyrics. On the opening song “Three Songs of Shattering” is a funky-folk take on the spoken word genre that ends with a bit of the old whistle popularized by Andrew Bird. Next “Only Until This Cigarette is Ended” begins with Nick Drake styled guitars and Lundahl’s fierce, confident vocals and then gets a bit trippy as hazy feedback gives way to a barely audible old recording of Millay, which bleeds into and becomes more clear on “Recuerdo” on which Indrick adds in his backing vocals, and in and out Millay reads and it is haunting and stunning at the same time.
The mood changes on “The Penitent” which has a slow burn acoustic blues feel to it, and Lundahl, reading the opening lines of the lyrics is laughing to herself as she reads them, and helps to lighten the mood of the songs theme. Next on “Grown Up” there is a mix of the operatic and the space age, and they continue to experiment on the short and sweet “The Unexplorer” the lyrics of which give a sly look into Millay’s sense of humor.
In all honesty Songs of Shattering is not an easy record to get into. Like great poetry and literature in general things may seem slightly out of place if one is not used to having to give a little to get a lot. But the time invested is worth it, and soon you will begin to see what Animals of Grace along with their ghostly companion Edna St. Vincent Millay are doing, which is making true art.
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