Message To Bears: Folding Leaves
Dead Pilot Records

Departures, Jerome Alexander's 2010 Message To Bears release, made such a strong impression, it nabbed the number thirty-six spot on textura's 2010 year-end list of top albums. The nine pieces on Folding Leaves show that the multi-instrumentalist has brought the same level of care and sensitivity to his latest collection. Though the folktronica label is an oft-derided one, it wouldn't be inaccurate to use it to describe the Message To Bears sound, even if the acoustic dimension is more pronounced than the electronic. On irresistibly lovely pieces like “Farewell, Stars,” Alexander singlehandedly rehabilitates the label by deftly uniting acoustic sounds (acoustic guitar, piano, glockenspiel, vocals) and electronics (beats) into music that's both heartfelt and graceful.

On a number of songs, lead vocals and background harmonies appear but not off-puttingly, especially when Alexander treats his vocals as another element within a given song's delicate fabric; his singing voice exudes a softness that even, oddly enough, during the verses of “At a Glance” sounds a little bit like Dave Gilmour's. The presence of Laura Ashby, who contributes viola and violin to about half of the album' s songs, makes a huge difference to the release. Her luscious playing on “Everything Was Covered In Snow,” for instance, lifts what would otherwise be a splendid example of Alexander's entrancingly melodic style to a veritably transcendent level, while her rustic tone helps make “At a Glance” even more affecting.

One thing Alexander might have omitted are the occasional bird chirps, a sound that has become a too-familiar signifier for pastoral folktronica; the birds chattering throughout “Wake Me” amount to unnecessary overstatement that the otherwise lovely piece could easily do without. Regardless, at its best (e.g., “Unleft” and “Daylight Goodbye”), Folding Leaves shows itself to be a superb example of how soul-stirring and uplifting such music can be. In these moments, considerations of genre and labels are irrelevant. Alexander's sincere love for his chosen genre comes through in every moment of this concise thirty-nine-minute release, and there's a level of craft evident throughout that others would do well to emulate.

February 2012