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.