Brooklyn-based duo Quarterly combine elements of folk and classical on the intimate, calm, and unique Pomegranate.
The cover of Quarterly's five-song EP, Pomegranate, is both on-the-nose and mysterious. The bright image is striking – the piece of fruit appears both delicious and a bit enigmatic, maybe even a little harsh. The music beyond the cover is, in a way, not much different. There's a refreshing simplicity to what Kristen Drymala and Christopher DiPietro accomplish when they join forces as Quarterly. Drymala's cello and DiPietro's guitar and hammered lap steel borrow elements of instrumental folk with a slight classical influence. But they never seem to tip their hand. The music is warm and inviting, but a bit aloof.
Released on Ben Seretan's Whatever's Clever label and available exclusively on cassette and digital download, Pomegranate is the follow up to Quarterly's self-titled 2016 album. While that first album was a full-length release, Pomegranate clocks in at a modest 18 minutes, which gives the album the feel of a sampler, just a taste (I'll keep the food metaphors to a minimum here) of what this duo is capable of. On the opening track, "Sueño Americano", DiPietro's graceful fingerpicking is complemented beautifully by Drymala's sustained, lyrical cello notes, which provide plenty of straightforward, yet moving melodies.
"Catherine Wheel" begins a bit more tentatively with sparser guitar work, but eventually, both instruments lock into place, with Drymala adding string plucks to the bow work, which gives the song a welcome new dimension. But there's never any sense of gimmickry or parlor tricks to sacrifice the innate beauty of these compositions and the way they're executed.
The duo, originally hailing from Maryland but currently based in Brooklyn, manage to imbue the songs with a vivid, almost cinematic feel. On the title track, DiPietro gallops along on a somewhat urgent shuffle while Drymala's rides along the surface like a gentle siren. It's a relatively brief midway point on the album before "2060 Chiron", which puts the focus a bit more on DiPietro's multifaceted guitar work in the first half before Drymala's cello comes in. This time it's a bit harsher, almost distorted, and then both musicians slow down to a near crawl in the song's final moments. The constant ebb and flow of the instruments give a sense of excitement to compositions and performances that are also immensely soothing and relaxing.
That final cello note on "2060 Chiron" is sustained well into the beginning of the closing track, "Bandalore", a brief finale that ends the album brightly and hopefully, as DiPietro and Drymala play relatively higher notes, possibly giving voice to a sense of optimism and hope. During the brief run time of the album, the listener is treated to a great deal of emotion and a neighborhood's worth of avenues that the guitar and cello explore in the hands of these amazing musicians. As I write this, social distancing is on everyone's mind as people all over the world are looking for ways to find peace and hope. This gorgeous new album may be able to offer some of the calm many of us are seeking.