The Eau Claire band's finest release yet.
A short while back, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus hosted two shows within the same week. One was a sold-out dubstep show where a massive throng of people all looked on in wonder at something that was produced by a computer and not actual musicians. The other was a sparsely-attended show featuring a trio of classically-trained musicians called the Daredevil Christopher Wright. It’s a slightly sad statement on people’s investment in genuine musicianship and the fine arts in general. Those in attendance at the Daredevil Christopher Wright show were treated to a nearly unforgettable night of gorgeous harmonies, intricately arranged music and an intimate performance. That sense of intimacy and the beauty in their craft is translated directly to The Nature of Things.
Beginning with “I & Thou”, The Nature of Things adeptly announces what it has to offer; clean and smartly-arranged guitars, intuitive vocal melody lines, and gorgeous atmosphere reminiscent of Grizzly Bear. “I & Thou” also introduces rhe Daredevil Christopher Wright’s songwriting style quite well, which is an odd balance of the near-abstract and opaque. “I am looking for the thing in itself, not healing but health” goes a particularly memorable early line. The song floats along effortlessly, pulling the listener in as it progresses and it expands. “Divorce”, despite its inventiveness and strong production, doesn’t fare quite as well. It is worth noting, however, that “Divorce” is what Dent May’s recent Do Things had the potential to sound like but neglected to in favor of a much more bland synth-heavy approach.
The Nature of Things really finds its footing with the third track, “Blood Brother”, which was the song I was humming for weeks after their UWSP stop. Beginning with a perfectly harmonized vocal introduction the song mutates after a little over a minute into a frantic. frenetic, and jittery guitar-led piece backed by flute. It spirals into something that appears, at several times, to be on the verge of evolving into something avant garde. There’s an elongated pause towards the end before the song kicks back in before coming to an unexpected and abrupt halt. It’s almost daring in its execution and it’s endlessly fascinating.
Much of The Nature of Things’ middle section continues on in the same vein. It flirts with total accessibility but is ultimately too intricate in its arrangements and patterns to find a place on mainstream radio. They further reveal their similarities to Grizzly Bear, despite being much more folk-centric than that particular band. They’ll inevitably gain comparisons to Bon Iver, hailing from the same relatively small WI town but that comparison doesn’t hold too much water past the delicate vocals. There are sparse moments scattered throughout The Nature of Things, like “Church”, but they’re immediately offset by the band’s more expansive numbers (in the case of “Church”, it’s the jaunty and brilliant “Andrew the Wanderer”).
However, The Nature of Things’ sparsest moment comes with the nearly-all vocal “Ames, IA”, which is among the most delicately haunting tracks I’ve heard this year. There’s an eerie ambient undercurrent that acts as a bed for the vocal harmonies which remain as striking as ever. It’s a bleak break from the rest of The Nature of Things, boasting lyrics that end with “Doff my wedding ring, methamphetamine has touched my mind, found a place in my heart. Oh my stricken body and my despairing wife. You want me for a sunbeam, then take me.” It’s easily the record’s most jarring moment and stands out as one of its most brilliant. Noted Eau Claire musician and performer Caroline Smith (of Caroline Smith & the Goodnight Sleeps) joins the band as an additional vocalist for “San Francisco Bay” and effectively adds a new dimension to the band’s already formidable vocal palette.
“Pale Horse, Pale Rider” is another track that continuously just floats by, pleasant and impressive enough but never completely gripping. Whereas “The Birds of the Air and the Flowers of the Field” isn’t necessarily one of The Nature of Things’ most impressive moments but does stand out as one of its best. It also stands out as one of the quietest, with only one guitar and one vocal. The song’s a bare-bones take on the bands’ formula, and clearly demonstrates that, even when stripped raw, this band has an unbelievable sense of composition and dynamic. “The Birds of the Air and the Flowers of the Field” reminds me at points of Antony & the Johnson’s I Am A Bird Now if it were re-envisioned as indie-folk. Suffice it to say, it approaches absolute brilliance in those moments.
The Nature of Things closes out with “The Animal of Choice, which essentially bridges everything the band accomplishes on the record and, as such, may act as one of the most representative tracks on The Nature of Things, despite not being one of its strongest moments. It does serve as an excellent closer and reminder of the band’s talents and capabilities. Overall, The Nature of Things is an incredibly enjoyable listen that’s very easy to take in, but it’s not quite the classic record that the Daredevil Christopher Wright is clearly capable of making. Yet it’s strong enough to lead me to believe that we won’t have to wait too long for that record to happen.