Warm Room begins with a loose harmony of strings, violins, and cellos, as picturesquely ominous as a deep forest on a winter night. Before long the lovely, fluttering melodies are overwhelmed, almost subsumed by a loud, atonal bass drone. The prettiness is in the background — the centerpiece of the song is that bass note, a changeless hum that forces you to struggle to make out the fragile prettiness underneath.
That’s the tension that makes the Big Eyes Family Players so interesting: The graceful richness of classical composition and the haunted simplicity of folk music rub uncomfortably against their avant-garde tendencies, their resistance to melodic resolution, and their urge towards oddness and difficulty. They bury their best melodies deep in the mix, under cracked, hypnotic harmonies and restless, knotty discord.
It’s an interesting and unusual technique, and it makes for some spectrally memorable moments, as when anxious drums ascend the chiming, sitar-like guitar scaffold of “A Lick and a Promise” or when frozen triplets from a distant piano ring through the cavernous “Woodenwheel.” Ultimately, though, the music is too odd and dissonant to sound good in the background, but it’s too simple and repetitive to reward careful listening. More than anything, it sounds like the score for a strange movie, something fantastical and discomfiting by Jan Svankmajer or Guillermo Del Toro in a languorously stoned mood. Maybe, in fact, the best use of the record is as something to fall asleep to, an eerie adult lullaby. Despite all of its experimentation, Warm Room is quite soothing, and its lush empty spaces seem to invite visions and dreams at once uncanny, grotesque, and beautiful.