Scattered Trees: Sympathy

This Chicago indie-rock sextet come out of nowhere and give us one of 2011's great albums.

Scattered Trees


US Release: 2011-09-09
UK Release: 2011-09-09
Label: Musebox

Let me get this out of the way: Sympathy is one of the best records of 2011. In my year-end list, it would surely make the top 10. It's been criticized for lackluster instrumentation and vocals, but it works for me. When I first listened to the album, I was floored. Every single song is a gem, the instrumentation is full (as this is a six-piece band), and there is absolutely nothing pretentious or dishonest about their brand of melodic indie-rock. Besides, the simplicity is where the beauty lies.

They're making waves with self-made videos on YouTube, but the general public hasn't caught on, which is a shame as I believe these guys (and girl) could really be on the way for large indie or major label success. Scattered Trees can switch from the lachrymose to jaunty pop on a dime. The songwriting is masterful. But let me stop this fanboy gushing and get to some of the songs. My personal favorite is "Four Days Straight", starting with a brokenhearted four-chord progression and segueing seamlessly into a tambourine-shaking pop chorus. In my book, it is perfect songcraft, with every segment as mellifluous as the next. "On Your Side" is another perfect 10, with acoustic guitars and synths providing something sadder than sad, something that will pierce your heart and put you in a place of melancholic dolor that you will oddly enough not want to leave.

"Love and Leave" provides more expert, yet simple, melodies, coming across as a more organic Grandaddy. The title track showcases unique instrumentation (lackluster, people?) and recalls Death Cab For Cutie in the days of Transatlanticism. "Where You Come From" is dark folk in an echo chamber with, yet again, a striking sense of melody. I drop these comparisons so you have an idea of the type of sound you're getting into. Scattered Trees, without a doubt, have their own sound, one that will become instantly recognizable, as I see great things coming for this Chicago sextet.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.