Admiral Fallow - Tree Bursts in Snow Review
Posted by C.A. Bell on 06.26.2012
Constantly compared to fellow Brits Mumford & Sons, Admiral Fallow step away from the banjo and into a much larger sound on their sophomore record, Tree Bursts in Snow. Will this be enough to get them out of their contemporaries' shadows, or is the new verse just a watered down version of the old? 411's Chris Bell will show you the way.
Emerging from the thriving nu-folk scene of the last several years, Admiral Fallow are a Scottish six-piece; lead singer Louis Abbott, clarinetist Kevin Brolly, flutist Sarah Hayes, double bassist Joseph Rattray, guitarist Tom Stearn, and drummer Philip Hague.Originally named Brother Louis Collective, Admiral Fallow formed while studying in Glasgow in 2007. They claim influences as wide as the likes of Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and Rufus Wainwright, but listeners and critics alike keep throwing a different set of words out there...Mumford & Sons. The similarity in sound is undeniable. They both blend folk and Americana into a very specific brand of Dream Pop. They both have big sounds and serious love for the epic chorus. Oh, and they're both from Europe. For the most part, it is a case of inconvenient timing that has led Admiral Fallow to be constantly compared to their brothers from London. Fallow did release their debut LP, Boots Met My Face, at almost the same time as the Mumford megahit Sigh No More. Had it not been for some blind luck that caused American radio to pick up that Mumford record and an eventual national performance alongside the Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan at the Grammy Awards, one could easily have seen Admiral Fallow to be the band that made it first. Luckily, Admiral Fallow continued despite the relative American obscurity of Boots Met My Face and have even struck first blood with their sophomore record Tree Bursts In Snow. This album shows the band evolving their sound in a positive way. I'll recognize that this may not be music that will please indie fans of raw, heart-on-the-sleeve production. After that, I also have to recognize that I really, really like this record.
Let's just immediately divide the readership. If you didn't like the last Shins record, go ahead and stop reading. This won't be the album for you. For those of you, like myself, that liked the newest effort from the Shins, let's begin. I make this comparison because I think a lot of the largest strengths of Port of Morrow hold the day on Tree Bursts In Snow. There are shallow aesthetic similarities between the two. A lot of the transitions and choruses have immediate aural ties to the Shins (particularly on "The Paper Trench"). But I believe there is a deeper philosophical similarity here too. Admiral Fallow apply a very detailed approach to the songwriting and production on Tree Bursts. Every note has a reason for existing. Every studio effect is meant to fulfill its own purpose. In short, this is an expertly edited piece of music that hits on every level it intends to hit. Whether it is the gospel piano on "Isn't This World Enough" or the string arrangement for "Old Fools", this band poured over every single note. Being someone that often rants about artists releasing throwaway records hidden under obtuse lyrics and hazy effects, I appreciate this. It shows this band cares enough about their music to not make listening laborious. They've already done the work for us.
While Tree Bursts in Snow shares the strengths Port of Morrow, it also shares the major weakness. There are some that will think the production on Tree Bursts in Snow is far too clean and the lyrics too melodramatic. I can understand that argument. Certainly the uber clean sound of "Burn" strips that song of any flavor and takes some power away from its follow-up "Oh, Oscar". But, just like any pop-oriented band, walking between too raw and too clean is a very difficult task. I use the "Queen rule" when deciding whether or not something has traveled too far into the land of cheese. That is, I have to think that the band earnestly believes in what they are doing to be able to overlook the cheese. In the case of Admiral Fallow, I buy it hook, line, and sinker. This is a tent-pole sound that is meant to attract as many people as possible. That alone doesn't make a record boring. At heart, the songs on this album are beautiful. Tree Bursts in Snow is a great record that I will be giving plenty of spins for the near future. This is the kind of record that has one salivating to find out what the band will do next. At the very least, maybe people should start saying that Mumford & Sons sound like Admiral Fallow, instead of the other way around.
The 411: I don't see how anyone can see this as anything other than a clear improvement for Admiral Fallow. They have made everything crisper with Tree Bursts in Snow and yet somehow sound more comfortable in their own skin. This is a pure win.