Torch Cricket, is so named for the insects that shared Nate Braeuer's basement music space. But for as much as Braeuer's songs can be quaint and cloistered, they hardly brings to mind a dank basement—rather open spaces that simply fade into the dark: dusky parking lots defined by dim street lights or victorian attics dotted with furniture clad in dusty sheets. Overtly minimalist, Braeuer's soundscapes are lined with ringing pulses of piano chords, accented but the occasional bell-set and layered with smooth, just-above-baritone vocals that are as important in their delivery as they are in their lyrical content.
Braeuer's sound is simple and resoundingly poignant in the style of both singer-songwriters old and new. There's a clear invocation of yesteryear's poetic composers—from Leonard Cohen to Warren Zevon, but there's also a contemporary element, a bubbling post-millennium-malaise akin to the likes of The National or Ben Gibbard's stark vulnerability.
While the classic piano delivery and slowly drawn out vocals are effective at establishing the environment, it's the vivid imagery of the lyrics that spells out the shapes and colors within. The song, “Etiquette” perfectly captures the juxtaposition of familiar and foreign on holiday trips home: “When your childhood friend hands you his business card, on a Christmas night in your hometown bar, you wonder if this life has gone a little too far,” Braeuer sings, before later describing “drunk tiptoeing through your childhood home.” In just under two minutes, Braeuer pulls the listener in with relatable moments while telling a brief and wry story. On the track, “You May Never Change,” Braeuer focusses on the failed aspirations of aging and underachieving, asking “what if” with the beautifully simple line, “meanwhile, out West, there's a piercing light you fear might be marvelous.” His delivery skips like a stone over the already rippling and ringing piano lines, wobbling just enough to add to the vulnerability of the lyrics.
There's an edge of urgency buried in the subtext: as much is the musical structure is as conventional as apple pie, you can just barely detect some mysterious spice mixed into the crust. It's no surprise that Braeuer is a classically trained musician—his playing, deft respect for tonality and utter restraint in use of accenting notes all bear the watermarks of a musical pedigree. But the whole endeavor has the raw feeling of somebody taking a shot in the dark, which makes sense, as the album has only come into being after Braeuer realized that, despite gigging and writing for years, he's never bothered to properly capture the songs.
The album was recorded recorded, mixed and mastered by Lance Koehler at Minimum Wage Studios in Richmond, Virginia. The recording is simple, straightforward and effective—every note and lyric rings out with crystal clarity, yet the intensity of delivery is maintained, so at times the piano and vocals will dance around eachother in the mix.
Torch Cricket is a surprising deep and microscopically nuanced album hamstrung only by it's brevity. At a brief seven songs, including an instrumental intro, it leaves the listener looking for more. However, as desire to want more content out of an album is seldom a bad thing. I can easily recommend Torch Cricket to any fans of singer-songwriter music, contemporary or classic.
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