Handsome and Gretyl: Miles and Miles

[7 July 2014]

By Gideon Thomas

Handsome and Gretyl are a duo whose origins straddle the US-Canadian border (his from Toronto, hers from Seattle) who together create some of the most evocative music I have heard in a long time. Their music, which speaks of the earth, emotion, and community, draws from real life, through optimistic, realistic lyrics, creating something which is real, and which is relatable.

Their music focuses on arrangement, storytelling, and Gretyl’s voice. All these elements come together, creating, at first glance a delicate and unassuming package. However, listen longer and listen deeper, and you will find that there is something much more contained in their songs. Both band and listener simultaneously search for something, revealed through the stories, sound, and music. The music speaks of creativity with a broad brush of home, the outdoors, and ideas of the past. Yet it appeals as somehow new and exciting in the same instance. With equal doses of power and fragility, Handsome and Gretyl give the world their music.

Miles and Miles starts with the growing, blossoming “Avalanche”, with its humming, strumming intro, the song relates being together, being in love, and being in life. It is impressionistic, sure, but it is also true, and you can feel real emotion in its delivery. “Harmony” follows, showing off the duo’s signature depth and message once again. The accompaniment is an interesting, invigorating mix of sweeping strings and an almost rockabilly feel in the guitars and it displays a fuller arrangement than the other songs on the album. “Take My Sorrows”, a tale of redemption through love, seems to be one of the most personal songs on the album with a closeness and intimacy to it, yet remaining somehow far away at same time.

“Come Away”, meanwhile, represents the total package of Handsome and Gretyls’ music in one song. The central figure is a backpicked banjo line, and both the message and the sense of discovery contained in the song work on all levels, again demonstrating the dichotomy of delicacy and power which is central to Handsome & Gretyl’s music. The banjo riff uses a delicate extra beat, or grace note to turn into something just perfect. “Turn your troubles into something beautiful” is surely a message to us all, a message of new power, new possibilities of music and of this band.

The rushing, expectant intro of “Waiting” leads into the sweet, constrained power of Gretyl’s voice. The music surrounds you, leads you on and in, with lines like “You talk / And I’ll love listening” relating both to group and listener. Handsome and Gretyl’s music is sweet and lovely – performed without artifice, resulting in the pure pleasure of listening to music. This album draws on it and draws from it -– giving you joy, as can be heard on the stripped-back “Open Your Eyes”. Let it breathe into you, what you know, what you see. Flowing, floating, and melancholy, but beautiful. “Back to the Love”, meanwhile, pours out more sheer power, opening questions of how music makes you feel and makes you think, and fits in with other things in your life. The more deeply you listen, more is revealed.

“Siren” has to be heard to be believed. Descending piano interacts with drums and banjo, as confessional lyrics are interlaced with otherworldly background sounds. “After All” ties things together in terms of the album’s message as well as musically, with voice, piano, and arrangement unifying the work’s aesthetic and what the duo want the record to be.

Miles and Miles is a varied record, using a selection of tempos, melodies, and effects with an overall sense of ease and naturalness. I love this record with all of my heart. It focuses on love, hope, optimism, life, people, and places.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/181128-handsome-gretyl-miles-and-miles/