[13 November 2007]
When two songwriters, armed primarily with guitars, voices and their wits, join forces and set out to carve a musical identity, there is an inevitable comparison which often manifests itself in the words of critics and admirers, eager to relay their find to others. It might be easy to label Chris Anderson and Thomas Hein, or Chris and Thomas, as they’re known when taking the stage or releasing an album, as being cut from the same cloth as Simon and Garfunkel. But, frankly, it is not fair to burden every emergent folk-pop duo, including this one, with such a cumbersome label. For, really, how many songwriters can fashion a tune as revelatory as Simon’s “The Boxer” or “The Sound of Silence” and how many vocalists can sing with the celestial elegance of Art Garfunkel?
While Chris and Thomas might not be their generation’s answer to their iconic forerunners, what they are is an excellent pair with a knack for writing and performing thoughtful and creative folk tunes imbued with spirit and something like a fire in their artistic belly. As their press material states, the two became friends at the same art school in Liverpool where Lennon and McCartney teamed and this history of friendship and familiarity is reflected in the tightness of their harmonies and the unity of their vision.
The title track on the band’s first full-length, Land of Sea opens the album with a wonderful feeling of sojourn as Chris and Thomas sing of their intentions to “drive into the sun ‘til the driving day is done.” An impression is created that these two gents will be soon embarking on a voyage, both musically and figuratively, and that they want the listener to come along. The sense of wonder and journey that Chris and Thomas produce continues on the next track, “Broken Chair”, (with its good-natured, ambling guitar figures, replicating the feel of walking down dusty roads with light hearts) and lingers throughout Land of Sea .
Truth be told, the secret to what makes Land of Sea a winsome and first rate project is the beautiful dichotomy that exists between the wide open spaces portrayed in the band’s instrumental presentation and the immaculate accord between their voices. There is little to no separation between Chris and Thomas’s vocal lines, their harmonies sound seamless; in context of the feeling of being led on a journey, this renders the duo as a pair of wandering minstrels who have seen times both lean and abundant and have grown stronger and closer together for their travels. It is a compelling and engaging narrative and one that sustains the listener through the twelve songs present on the record.
Besides the opening couplet, the pair’s harmonic grace and color are best exhibited on other standout tracks such as “You’re the One I Want”, “Don’t Hang Your Heart”, and “Take These Thoughts”. These songs represent the best of the group’s work and are moving, both lyrically and musically. These are not radio-ready pop tunes polished up and presented for mass consumption but, as striking songs which cry out for and suggest feelings of intimacy and purpose, they hit the mark.
There is a sweet simplicity to the project, a focus on the most basic and fundamental elements of music: melody, rhythm, and harmony. Chris and Thomas manipulate these elements skillfully to achieve an impressive collection of tunes, memorable as individual parts but unforgettable as pieces of a bigger picture and elements of a grander sense of being.