The first reaction you have to Tree Bursts In Snow might be, "There's no way this is only their second album." A mature poetic voice, pop harmonies, and orchestral arrangements add up to a more polished sound than most groups' third or fourth record. This Scottish band formed in 2007 and, in addition to recording their successful debut, Boots Met My Face, has been touring tirelessly, from festivals to homeless shelters. All that experience has certainly paid off, because Admiral Fallow has it down. With his sophomore album, songwriter and frontman Louis Abbott weaves together a grim but gorgeous picture of the human condition: bar fights fleshing out childhood insecurities, the silent suffering of abused trees, the struggle of putting faith in poetry, and self-loathing after infidelity are just a few snapshots from Admiral Fallow's intimate diary of heartache.
Tree Bursts In Snow, whose name refers to the image of a gunshot firing into a cluster of trees, is a great album for introspection. In "Isn't This World Enough??" (yes, two question marks), the band gives us their version of an inspirational ballad, scolding humanity for hoping for life after death. Using an ironic gospel sound - complete with hand claps and chanted response - they question religion and advise us, "So love this vessel while you're aboard/There will be no deposit back from a cosmic landlord/You don't need to hang your hat on belief in bumper stickers/There will be no love lost, just pull on that ripcord."
Another highlight is "The Paper Trench," an insightful, angry song from the point of view of a tree. It critiques a culture of greed and "Those that siphon the green from the air that we breathe/To line fat pockets with the residue," repeating the bitter refrain, "A ring per sin." Songs about appreciating life and saving trees may sound cheesy in theory, but Admiral Fallow tackles these subjects with the sincerity of Bruce Springsteen and the dynamic virtuosity of Arcade Fire. Abbott's pleading vocals mix with Sarah Hayes' angelic harmonies, flute riffs, and accordion sections to produce songs that are as richly textured as they are intelligent. Their back-and-forth in "Beetle In The Box" sounds like a folky Quadrophenia, and the flute counterpart in "Old Fools" is one of the most original moments of the album.
Like The Shins or Belle and Sebastian, Admiral Fallow strikes the perfect balance between sparkling major-key melodies and obscurely mournful lyrics. For every cynical line like, "Love slowly conquers like rust on a gate" ("Guest of the Government"), they will inspire you to throw tragedy back in the world's face, to "Smoke another coffin nail/Sing 'til youre hoarse" ("Brother"). If you're feeling discontented with the world but still want a pretty album to listen to on a sunny afternoon, Tree Bursts is for you.
Tomorrow, January 10th, we will be unveiling our Concert Video of Admiral Fallow's performance at Spike Hill in Brooklyn. Until then, please enjoy the music video for "The Paper Trench."