The Orchards

Sing Birds, In Your Shrinking Woods

The Orchards
Sing Birds, In Your Shrinking Woods
Burst & Bloom Records

Before I dive into my thoughts on the quiet, patient new LP from Portland-by-way-of-Pennsylvania folksinger Eric Schwan, I’ve got to make a confession: I’m tired of patience. It’s what politicians keep telling me to have while an abusive criminal runs rampant in the White House. In these dark days, my mood calls for rappers with infectious bravado that I can leech, or ’80s anti-establishment thrash that I can process my rage through. So forgive me if my initial reaction to “Houseboat,” the first song on Sing Birds, In Your Shrinking Woods, was “get on with it!” “Forest Avenue was a river too great to cross,” laments Schwan over slow acoustic strumming and some light accordion, setting a tone, and tempo, from which the production rarely deviates. The Orchards aren’t interested in wrapping their bandleader’s thoughts in bright, catchy packages, preferring a calm, meditative sprawl that relies heavily on his singing. Fortunately, Schwan’s friendly, nasal tenor has a John Darnielle-ish quality (of the Mountain Goats) that makes the words feel approachable, even though they’re often about being all at sea. Also, by steering the ship in one direction without changing speeds, every production wrinkle feels more significant. Like the backup vocal echoes from celloist Jerusha Neely on “Raincoat.” Or the upper-register trombone accents from the late, great Dave Noyes, which give “Even in the Drought” a touch of “I Am the Walrus” whimsy. (The Orchards are donating the proceeds from digital downloads of this album to Noyes’ family.) The more I listened, the more I warmed to Schwan’s aggressively patient approach, which is extreme in its own way. Inner peace is just as important as outrage.

Click to hear “Raincoat”