Delicate and crisp -- balancing electric guitar with banjo, cello and more eclectic instruments -- everything about The Mitchells' self-titled debut album says indie-pop. The music is light and drifting and would play perfectly as the soundtrack to the next Marc Webb film. It is hard to listen to this album and not imagine yourself leaning out the car window and letting the wind push firmly against your outstretched palm.
The album is primarily a DIY project that took more than a year to complete, recording both at-home and at Lebanon's All Nighter Studio. The open, lonely loveliness of the music is echoed in the album's package design that features the photography of Wendy Minor Viny and Mark Becknell.
There is an austerity to the composition that allows for a lot of airflow between notes and gives the songs a mid-summer afternoon's dreamlike charm. Lyrically, there is an eloquent word-play in The Mitchells that reminds me of some of Paul Simon's lesser-known solo projects and a subtle gravity that could be influenced by the great Robert Hunter.
I can see you,
The moonlight from the windows,
casting shadows on the pillow.
Cold and clean,
Our friends have different faces,
They're all wearing green sweaters.
The band's Facebook page states that "The Mitchells are a band of storytellers that weave their tales with orchestral sensibilities while demonstrating that they are unafraid to cut loose and let their rock roots show."
The music of The Mitchells comes from Joseph Mitchell [guitar/banjo/cello/vocals] along with Marc Aiello [guitar/keyboard], Carlos Mitchell [bass/vocals] and Nick Mavridoglou [drums].
On this album they are joined by Nashville singer-songwriter Caroline Kingsbury (The Red Headed Indian) in both the closing ("The Christmas Gulch") and the opening ("Driving in Cars") tracks. "Driving in Cars" may be the most "pop-like" single in the collection. Kingsbury and Mitchell's vocals balance each other very well and provide a lovely point-counterpoint aspect that propels the song.
Local guitarist Noah Wotherspoon makes a cameo on the album and brings a pleasant blues vibe to the song "Willie Mays."
Halfway through the album, the dreamy "Absalom" (with guest Tim Golliher on mandolin) takes you on a downright hypnotic eight-and-a-half minute journey that provides a strong contrast to the remainder of the disc.
The two songs "Denmark" and "Orchard" are my favorites as they are the most high-energy tracks and have the fullest overall sound. Of the two, however, "Orchard" gets the nod this week as my favorite -- probably because it feels like it should sit alongside R.E.M.'s Chronic Town EP.
The overall performance on The Mitchells feels unsure and apprehensive. There is a noticeable imbalance on some tracks between the light and airy strings and the too up-front drums. Likewise, too often the bass just follows and should take a more assertive role to fill in some of the sonic gaps. However, taken as a whole, there is some very strong songwriting going on in The Mitchells both musically and poetically.