Pretty, serene and deceptively depressing, Small Sur’s Tones is a blast of breathy vocals, zen-like bass and Transcendentalist lyrics from California, despite the fact that the band is based in Baltimore, Maryland. With lyrics like, “In the woods I will find what I seek . . . It’s there I’ll live, it’s there I’ll grow, I’ll cease to breathe”, songwriter Bob Keal invokes feelings of peace and greenness that go a long way toward being recuperative. Ultimately, though, the music is so slow and hopeful that a more active mind gets bogged down by the morbid deliberateness of the arrangements. On tracks like “Saint” and “How I Love You”, each guitar chord is left to reverberate endlessly, as though Keal finds the sound of his instrument so fascinating that he doesn’t want to interrupt it with more playing. Pretty more than it is beautiful, Keal’s contemplativeness is easily construed as brooding, and it makes Tones a gloomy if meditative listen.
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