Having moved to Amsterdam from Texas, Jonathan Brown formed alt. folk four-piece Dusty stray. Themes of lost love, heartbreak and loneliness weave through the band's fouth album A Tree Fell and Other Songs, but unlike many artists who walk the same path, there’s the occasional glint of hope and redemption in the songs. A Tree Fell and Other Songs was produced by the legendary producer Kramer who has worked with Galaxie 500 and Low, amongst others. Brown has no doubt that Kramer’s contribution was weighty suggesting he can turn straw into gold, just like Rumplestiltskin.
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Back in the days before I was actually born and therefore allowed to feel nostalgic about it, sad indie folk albums were pretty fucking long, and all the songs went on forever, and it was an infuriating but wonderful time for all concerned. Now folk bands like Dusty Stray lean on the quasi-genre pioneered by a slightly less terrible Mark Kozelek, but rip through it, as if treating its slow, melancholy tendencies the way Robert Pollard would.
Dusty Stray’s music has a beautiful, tree-shaded pastorality to it, with Jonathan Brown mostly strumming on his ones with the occasional twang blight or distantly intoned instrumentation. At times he sounds like he’s making the recent pop primitivism of James Blackshaw, while at others you can trace his work back to Will Oldham; all the time, though, he retains the hallmarks of slowcore, through both the sparsity of his compositions and their distantly scoped production. This could be Red House Painters meets Rusted Root, on some showings, though Brown often tries to tear off his own branch, suddenly styling his folk music after electro-pop and vaguely metal riffage on “Into Beads”. ‘A Tree Fell’, as a result, feels familiar but becomes surprising, adapting to new ideas and lush atmospheres when it so pleases.
On “Alibi”, Brown’s folk becomes ominous and reproaching, settling down into a minor key on top of a breathy vocal, as if honouring the recent and quieter songcraft of Angel Olsen. These no frills moments -- the ones where Brown starts internalising -- are the best. “The Dead Don’t Care”, with a beaming organ playing over quiet strums, suggests a keen listening ear: when you’re in these woods, you gotta tread carefully. Good tree surgeon jams.
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