If I wear the same clothes
I wore today tomorrow
Would I fool you to think
You were standing still?
Home -- Breathe Owl Breathe
When I first heard this song, I assumed the artists would be from some heavily-wooded part of North America. I envisioned log cabins and high-towering coniferous trees. I didn't envision Ann Arbor, Michigan. I assumed the only music coming out of that town would be what is usually consumed by University of Michigan students: frat-rock. The unlistenable likes of Dave Matthews Band and Jack Johnson.
But Breathe Owl Breathe? From Michigan?
What a pleasant surprise this duo has turned out to be. Creating gorgeous and mysterious music made up primarily of acoustic guitar, banjo and cello, Micah Middaugh and Andrea Moreno-Beals have landed on an organic and dusty sound that truly gives a glimpse of a growing trend in the music of West- and mid-Michigan. Their recordings, though definitely DIY home-studio quality, aren't as noisy as Mi and L'au or Iron & Wine. In fact, the vocal quality is suprisingly clear and crisp. They include a couple instrumentals on their most recent effort, Climb In, (CD Baby) and have more earthy and less agenda-driven subject manner than a lot of their genre's counterparts. The instrumentation, though simply played, isn't safe. They take sonic risks for such natural-sounding recordings. There are tough-to-distinguish time signatures and vacillations between melodic tension and release.
Middaugh's baritone vocals remind me of that of Crooked Fingers and Smog. Moreno-Beals typically adds an octave-higher unison part, but occasionally inserts a simple and appropriate harmony vocal. The song "Cave" recalls Michigan's weather: It takes a long time to get to the sunny part and then it doesn't last nearly long enough! There's a pretty nylon string picking pattern that sits atop a disonant cello scratching for the first half before resolving and joining together. "Embers" demonstrates a freedom to allow a song to be only as long as it needs to be. It's not necessary to follow a V-C-V2-C-B-C-C form with these songs. It also introduces a wood block percussive sound and a fantastic accordion texture.
Just to accent how "non-mainstream" this duo is: I checked their website today to find the "domain name expired on 05/04/06 and is pending renewal or deletion." Thank goodness for MySpace.
And thank goodness for music like this coming from my home state of two years now.
Cave - Breathe Owl Breathe
Embers - Breathe Owl Breathe
Cold Blooded Old Times - Smog
The Smog song is featured on the High Fidelity Soundtrack (US, UK).