Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Two Quiet Duos: Take Berlin / Misner & Smith

February 3, 2014

takeberlin

I like simple music. Complex, technical, hugely orchestrated music is wonderful; I cover it a lot. But I always return to the subtleties of an unadorned tune.

The duo Take Berlin doesn’t often have more than two instruments and two voices going: no more than can be played by everyone in the band at once. But even simplicity doesn’t guarantee elegance or quietude, and Take Berlin has both in spades. Debut EP Lionize features gentle, smooth pop tunes–back when that meant the same songs that we call “standards” now. These are smoky, candle-lit works written for graceful guitar, tender keys, and male/female duet. You could tell me that these were written in 1936, and I would totally believe you.

“Kentucky” supports a cooed, seductive female vocal line with a dreamy analog keyboard; “Sebastian” puts some modern slow jam vibes and a folky guitar strum together to dramatic effect. “Eaves” breaks with tradition and introduces a distant trumpet for color. All of these never get above whisper-level; they’re intimate, dead-silent-in-the-cabaret type of works. These are for appreciating, for savoring; there’s nothing hurried or immediate in their construction. This isn’t heady or cerebral, but it’s still serious music: what you put into it is what you will get out of it. Turn the lights low, turn the music up, and let it wash over you.

misnerandsmith

The duo of Misner & Smith also travels in circles of quiet dignity, but they have a much stronger connection to folk and country sounds. They also have a tendency to get loud every now and again (“Bird Street,” “The Upside”). Still, the gentleness of Seven Hour Storm is what attracts me to it. The title track opens the album, as warm production accents gentle fingerpicking for a melancholy vibe. Stand-up bass, brushed drums, occasional accordion, and even a mandolin add work. The tune stayed intimate, drawing me deep into its delicate melodic charms.

“Lost and Found” continues the backporch elegance, with a lazy yet complex fingerpicking pattern setting the backdrop for a male/female duet with distinct country vibes in the harmonies. “Lovers Like Us” goes full-country complete with weeping steel guitar, but it’s that old-school, 1920s-1950s country that’s I just can’t get enough of–a beautiful, romantic, charming highlight of the album. Other highlights include the Paul Simon rhythms and melodies of “Tamalpais” and the backporch country/gospel sounds of “Next Time Around.”

Seven Hour Storm is a varied album anchored by a general theme of simplicity in sound and feeling; this is earnest, honest, unpretentious music, and it’s just lovely. Fans of Eastmountainsouth, The Everybodyfields, and other gentle/romantic alt-country-esque bands will find lots to love in Misner & Smith.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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