Anawan: Anawan
New Amsterdam Records

If you're at all like me, your expectations of a given release are to some degree influenced by the label on which it appears. So you might find yourself a little bit taken aback by the vocal folk stylings of Anawan's self-titled album, which is hardly the kind of material one typically encounters on New Amsterdam Records.

Released as a twelve-inch, the group's self-titled full-length is the third record by the Red Hook, Brooklyn-based quintet (though the first under the Anawan name), whose de facto leader is prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Trevor Wilson. Its sound, a spirited blend of acoustic pop and experimental vocal performance (Meredith Monk is apparently a mentor of Wilson's), is unusual in the way it embeds five-part harmonies within lean instrumental arrangements assembled from nylon string guitar, electronics, synths, drum machine, and keyboards.

On the ten-song album, Wilson's passionate vocal delivery quickly reveals itself to be a group signature, while Anawan's affection for complex harmonies is demonstrated throughout the forty-minute recording. The members' voices are often presented in counterpoint or in rich, multi-layered formation, and while Wilson might be the lead singer, the others' voices are prominently featured, too.

Anawan's winsome side comes to the fore during the gentle ballad “Am I a Part of You,” whose earnest expression and sincerity calls to mind Sufjan Stevens. The song is one of the album's most affecting, and the manner by which the vocals segue between solo and harmony voices is striking. If the bluesy “Creamside” similarly impresses for the way it alternates between male and female lead vocals, “One of Us is Dead” is rooted in the pleasure that comes from elaborate multi-voiced harmonizing. Interestingly, the album's fullest arrangement arises within its closing song, the jazzy “Breaded Me,” which otherwise exudes a story-telling quality reminiscent of Paul Simon.

One comes away from the album thinking of Anawan's members, all of whom met while studying at Bennington College, as a tight-knit group of friends delighted to have established a vehicle through which to channel their collective love of music-making. That sense of joy comes through loud and clear on this finely crafted recording.

January 2015