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Phratry Week: Terminal Orchestra

The last post in Phratry Week covers the quietest material the Cincinnati label puts out: the contemporary classical/acoustic post-rock of The Terminal Orchestra. “Contemporary classical” is a foreign phrase to most indie rock listeners, but “acoustic post-rock” means pretty much the same thing, but with some context.

A telling fact: this sextet lists one person (Anna Eby) dedicated solely to “bells.” Other credited instruments include violins, bowed stand-up bass, and classical guitar. This is not your normal band, and the music they release is not your average sound.

The strings play a large part in making up the sound, being on par with the acoustic guitar in the melody duties. Composer Jesse DeCaire is credited with guitars, percussion and conducting/arranging, and while there are percussive elements (“Fall Song”), the first and the third are the primary items of importance.

The Seasons is eight songs long: a song for each season, with an introduction/interlude preceding each one. DeCaire chose to represent the seasons as an ode to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as it “is situated in just the right place, geographically, to allow for four distinct seasons.”

“Summer Song” is the first of the seasons, and it’s a portrait of a lazy summer instead of a hyperkinetic one. It’s a touch on the morose side for what I envision of the hottest season, but it’s a pretty song nonetheless. The waltzing middle part does evoke summer nights extremely well.

“Interlude No. 1” is a walk through crunchy leaves that leads into “Fall Song,” which is surprisingly martial. It has a bit of an ominous feel to it; I suppose that with a brutal winter coming on, fall in Michigan must feel a little bit foreboding (in Oklahoma, it’s the most anticipated season of the year). The guitar and strings interlock nicely here. There are no vocals in The Terminal Orchestra, but the acoustic guitar takes up the melody mantle.

A desolate, cold wind blowing starts off “Interlude No. 2,” which leads into “Winter Song,” the bleakest of the compositions. The violin takes a lead role here, shuttling the listener through the slow, pensive piece. This is the winter I know: the song goes on for eight minutes without very much variation in tone. The soloing violin keeps the interest level up, but it’s definitely a bleak winter.

And then, finally, it’s time for “Spring Song,” which is 15 minutes long (the whole album is only 40 minutes long). If I was going to visit the Upper Peninsula, I would certainly do so in the spring, because DeCaire’s musical transcription of it is the most beautiful of all his pieces. Adding a rumbling tom into the guitar/violin duology, the hopeful song sounds similar to some of Josh Caress’ earlier works. Caress used to live up there in Michigan, so it’s not surprising that the two have a kinship. The song still has a fair bit of sad to it before the optimistic conclusion, but perhaps that’s just life up in Michigan. Or maybe that’s just spring.

Fans of Balmorhea, first-album Bon Iver and orchestration will find much to love in Terminal Orchestra’s The Seasons.