The Pines give us a record that is artful and imaginative and in many ways defies easy classification. In others, it's pure joy Americana.
It’s been four years since the last time this Minneapolis outfit graced us with us a record, but the wait has been more than worth it. Now down to the core trio brothers Benson and Alex Ramsey and co-founder David Huckfelt, the group has delivered a collection of songs about yearning for belonging, the need to be some place that feels like home and maybe someone to be there with. Filled with all the trappings of Americana, including acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies and some banjo here and there, the record is not trapped in Americana clichés. In fact, Above the Prairie sometimes feels like a roots art record; at times your asked to consider what Radiohead might sound like if driven by wood and steel rather than ones and zeros.
That’s the case on the opening “Aerial Ocean”, which sweeps across the sonic spectrum with an easy and dusky melodicism. You can almost feel the early morning air and see the early morning sky described in the lyrics, your eyes and mind still filled with sleep but your heart driven by the need to be somewhere and be there soon. Like most of the record, there is that ache for companionship and the knowing that such comforts are at best fleeting. The music and lyrics are poetic in the sense of being (seemingly) spontaneous outpourings of emotion and expressions of the universal.
That continues elsewhere, on the woody “There in Spirit”, which imagines a duskier take on Son Volt’s Trace LP, on the haunting and sometimes hopeful “Here” and during the lovely ramble of “Where Something Wild Still Grows”. And in each of these are lovely images: mercury on its knees, God moving indoors, a monk without a temple and, always, an unseen “you”, an unseen and sometimes absent companion who might help ease the confusion and loneliness. Or worse, not.
There are musical risks, too, such as the keyboard-laden instrumental “Lost Nation”, which arrives in the record’s opening moments and adds emotional and thematic depth; in the final gasps of the record as the late John Trudell speaks some of his final recorded truths, adding resonance and beauty to the whole affair. It is the perfect poem to end an album that contemplates the eternal, contemplates love and contemplates truth itself.
It’s heavy. All of it’s heavy and the real trick is that the record and the band itself are capable of revealing this weightiness without ever raising its voice. The heaviness is spoken silently, with solemnity, and with a reverence for the human condition and an appreciation of the wisdom found in the solitary existence, the pain and relief of the temporary, the wisdom of our limitations.
It’s a meditation that doesn’t reveal itself fully to the casual listener and yet that doesn’t mean that the casual listener can’t find something to appreciate in the uplifting and thoughtful melodies throughout. It’s just that the deeper path is so much rewarding. That’s something this outfit has known since the beginning and proven time and again.