Sean McConnell’s Cold Country harvests the “deep in the woods” vibe that projects like Mutual Benefit and Fleet Foxes employ and puts it to intimate use. Tunes like “Letter to My Daughters” and “To Providence” make The Fall EP the sort of project where I feel like I’m getting to know McConnell instead of listening to a recording of him: his concerns are domestic, personal, and honest. The open-hearted lyrics are delivered beautifully by his unassuming, slightly imperfect high-tenor voice.
The sensitive, gentle-yet-sturdy arrangements complete the picture. Instead of the heavy strumming of Fleet Foxes, McConnell leans much more on an intricate latticework of instruments to create fullness: twinkling keys, lighthearted synth, distant electric guitar, fingerpicked acoustic, sparse drumming, and occasional female backing vocals all work together to create tunes like the beautiful “Song of Return” (which even includes tasteful autotune!) and “To Providence.” It’s a gorgeous EP that manages to sound rustic without being vintage, and earthy without being sparse.
House Above the Sun‘s self-titled EP splits the difference between quiet acoustic work and ’70s-style acoustic rock with strong lyrics on top of both. “Footsteps” and “Love’s Ugly Twin” focus on the acoustic stylings of Jim Moreton, featuring his unadorned voice, immediate melodies, and simple strumming. “(He’s Still) My Flesh and Blood” and “Dangerous Thing to Love” get a bit crunchier, with distorted electric guitar, kit drums, and a more rock-oriented approach.
Both sonic arrangements serve as strong platforms for Moreton’s lyrics to launch from: he’s concerned about difficult types of love on this EP. “(He’s Still) My Flesh and Blood” recalls the painful tale of trying to get through to a family member who you just don’t connect with and won’t connect with you; “A Dangerous Thing to Love” discusses the difficulties of loving someone romantically (“it’s not an intellectual thing, to love”). “Love’s Ugly Twin” deals with the aftermath of a relationship with a brother/friend, while “Footsteps” points to the inadequacy of the narrator to love Christ as well as he’d like. The thorny difficulty of the lyrical content contrasts against the smooth, polished arrangements for a pleasing listen. If you’re interested in lyrics-first acoustic work with a bit of a rock edge, House Above the Sun should be on your to-hear list.