Slipped over the case of Spirit Night’s debut album What We Will Be is a handy blue sheet of recommended tracks and contact information telling listeners this disc is geared toward fans of “Animal Collective, Girls, The Verlaines, The Antlers, The Microphones, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The National”. Do you think they left any out? Sure, including such an all-encompassing rap sheet of famous indie rockers is a tad laughable (“If you like music, then you’ll love this!”), but it’s also ample foreshadowing of how relentless and eclectic this album really is.
Spirit Night is really just an artsier name for Dylan Balliett, the West Virginia-based multi-instrumentalist/songwriter who performs everything here except for the batshit drums (played by Pete Wilmoth), a fairly impressive feat considering the vast amount of lo-fi, ramshackle charm on display. Songs generally begin simply, like epic opener “Smigel”, with Balliett’s goofy, unstable voice doubling the melody of a startlingly naked acoustic guitar between twinkly drops of piano and distant ambient noise. Then the song blooms, cathartic emo shouts and gloriously trashy drums pushing the track into outer space. On “Brains”, Balliett comes dangerously close to releasing his inner Jeff Mangum, throwing out a tossed-off, almost intentionally out-of-tune vocal melody over furiously strummed major key acoustics. Not all of the tracks are bedroom laptop miracles, though—the sort-of title track “What I Will Be” sounds like an artsier version of Adam Sandler’s “Grow Old with You”, just not as funny.
There’s a kitchen sink full of captivating sonics, but sometimes there’s little beneath the showy surface. Drum kits clatter; loose guitar strings thump; synths giggle over faint bursts of noise. For all the mountains of overdubs, these are really just simple pop songs, and when Balliett manages to grab hold of a good melody, the results are striking. It’s fitting, then, that the loveliest moment on What We Will Be comes in the middle of “125”, when a pair of dusty acoustic guitars meditate on a ghostly, bare bones four-chord mantra.
While you can’t quite add Spirit Night to that cover-gracing list of their forefathers, What We Will Be still offers plenty of reasons to keep listening.
// Notes from the Road
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