The six-piece Boston based band Saw Mill formed in 2014. Saw Mill is made up of students from both the New England Conservatory as well as the Berklee College of Music. Their sound is a warm mix of instruments which includes trombone, tenor sax, guitar, bass, drums, piano and keyboards and some politely room temperature vocals, which grow on you over the course of their debut album Evergreen.
Despite the band being a six-piece outfit the majority of the songs were written over the course of a year by guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Nankof. Nankof also recorded and mixed the record himself. Despite this Evergreen never comes off sounding like a solo record. The backing band definitely lets their presence be known from the outset on “In the Day” with its blaring horn blasts and they offer a backing vocal sound of sorts on “A Hill (In Oregon)” which also gets a folky and rather catchy snare drum beat.
Though Nankof does a pretty good job on his own too as he shows on the spritely solo acoustic instrumental “Lafayette.” This folksiness follows onto the slow swaggering of the twang-y alt-country rambler “Hang Me on the Line” which recalls the likes of The Decemberists. Next on “Piece of Paper,” with its slow and persistent piano and well timed drum taps, is a sort of blues and jazz filled ode with hints of marching band when the brass comes in. “Piece of Paper” also showcases some of the band’s finest musical arrangements as well as being one of Nankof’s best vocal performances on the record.
Saw Mill is at their best when they are all playing together and this happens very nicely on the six-plus- minute woozy ballad “When We Were Young.” It even works when the band takes a complete stylistic turn such on the experimental soundscape of the eight-plus-minute “Close the Window.” The elements of folk and sound experimentation come together in one of the best songs on the album “Later Later Gone.”
For how good the songs are, one gets the feeling at times that the rest of the band, all accomplished musicians in their own right, is holding back. And as good as these songs are, they are still a bit rough around the edges, which at times lends them that gritty quality that indie-folk is so known for and lately oversaturated with. With a more pronounced sound and higher fidelity of recording, Saw Mill could outgrow their competition without a doubt. However if low-fi indie folk is the musical direction in which Saw Mill are looking to grow, they’ll likely end up as just another log on the pile, waiting to be thrown onto the fire.
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