[22 March 2009]
If an album is like a novel, than an EP is like a book of short stories. It’s not a cohesive product, to be sure, but that’s not quite the point of it; its pieces operate independent of one another. And while there is nothing quite like a great album, there is a sort of freedom found in the throwing off of the form, in creating not one grand finished product, but instead just a few lovely moments.
The Loom’s At Last Light is such an EP. Taken as a whole, the songs have little flow or connection, but each of its five tracks are, on their own terms, affecting and accomplished works. It’s the kind of EP that makes me excited for the band’s proper debut, even as a part of me wonders if it can surpass the work that they’ve done here.
“Patience for Books” opens quietly, with a slow, deliberate banjo making the first appearance. After a few seconds the banjo is joined, first by lonely French horn and then by the twin vocals of John Fanning and Bethany Chase. Just as they come to my favorite line of the album—“And the city, it just makes me sick for the country”—the song transitions into a totally different place, becoming a lush, uptempo thing with a military snare beat and a faraway trumpet. “Sometimes instruments speak much louder than words”, Fanning and Chase sing, but even at this early juncture, that’s something we don’t need to be told.
“True Believers All” and “All Your Famous Friends” are the most energetic songs in the collection. The former is quick and breathless, built upon a careless but enthusiastic drum beat and a jangly guitar line. The latter is perhaps the most conventional song here, but it’s no weaker for that, and the way that it progressively layers itself as the song progresses is thrilling. “Of Vegas and Vanity” serves as a delicate transition between the two, and it showcases, like nothing else on the album, the impeccable control that Fanning has over his smooth baritone.
But it’s “Song for the Winter Sun” that is the standout of the EP. The song is anchored by the improbable combination of foot-stamp and ukulele, with a generous dose of hand-claps thrown in for good measure. The chorus is at once an awakening and a call to arms: “This year we will not / sleep our way / through the winter”, the band sings, and it’s as exhilarating a moment as any eclectic folk-rock band has the right to hope for.
At Last Light is not perfect. The production reflects the band’s means, Fanning and Chase could stand to experiment more on their vocal arrangements, and the band takes a bit too much pleasure in the inscrutability of their lyrics. But it is an exciting work, one that speaks of good things to come, and in that it completely fulfills its purpose as an EP.