Just in time to make good on your (now) slightly stale New Year’s Resolutions to do a better job of appreciating the good while you got it (well, that’s this reviewer’s take on 2014 at least), here’s another reason to wake up with a little more sympathy for the record industry, or the homespun, DIY wing of it at least. We Are In It, the newest record from Portland’s sub-folk soundscapers What in Your Heart Can Put You in a Trance, is here to get you going on those cold January mornings and beyond, when the sky is running a little too long on bleak and the air a little too much on cold; just throw this on repeat and kick those winter blues already. Unless you’re digging the weather, that is, in which case you should pop this one into your preferred portable listening device and go take a walk through the snow, using the ghostly and entrancing contents herein to your soundtracking pleasure.
Filled with lush melodies, lyrical secret gardens, and achingly emotive forays, What in Your Heart Can Put You in a Trance know well the answer to the question posed by their lengthy namesake, though they’d prefer you take a listen and decide for yourself, rather than just give away the ending. Principally composed of Ryan Michael Block and Mariya May, label heads of the Portland-based psych-folk collective Ten Dollar Recording Company, the band has spent the better part of the last couple of years putting out a series of singles and long-form EPs (among them A Bit of Heated Portland Harmony and Don’t Take All This Groove Away).
Now with their first proper full-length under the belt, We Are In It culls together the best of and more, showcasing the band’s penchant for spiraling progressions, fluttering tones, and above all an intimate, cinematic undercurrent that bends and shapes individual songs into larger-than-life collages more resembling of mood and feeling than mere track numbers. True to form, We Are In It is a wandering, winding road of a record that entices listeners onwards using the swirly combo of Block’s solid rhythmic work and May’s floating, Hope Sandoval reminiscent siren call, as well as backing instrumentation from a number of TDRCO mainstays (among others Thomas Mudrick and Chance Wiesner, both with fantastic 2013 full lengths out now on TDRCO). The results are classic TDRCO fare, weaving together Block and May’s own idiosyncratic solo work and group projects into a unified field, punctuated with an easy cool that retains and builds upon the freak folk underpinnings of the label’s extensive back catalog.
From the opening strains of the hazy, drifting "We Believe It" to the last seconds of the baroque-psych-dub of "Forever (Live at Langano)", We Are In It may well be one of TDRCO’s crowning achievements to date, a radiant, mature, and ultimately accessible record that lays bare the label’s diverse interests and talents while staying true to its proclivity for the prolific, sporting an “anything goes” work ethic that has seen the label release a ton of varied, quality material over the past coupla years from a rotating cast of less than 10 principal musicians comprising as many different recording projects.
Many, if not most of, WIYH’s tracks have a melancholic, whispering cadence rustling through them, and even when channeling sunny island dub or other more uptempo rhythmic exports there’s the residual feeling of walking down deeply wooded paths at dusk, with heads bowed and hands folded, perhaps a lingering sonic homage to Block and May’s darkened, forested home enclave out in the Cascadian reaches of the Pacific Northwest. Thoroughly modern in its approach and often playing off the unsung note, much of We Are In It is perhaps best described as one or two steps off the Medieval landscaping of "Greensleeves", perforated with a nearly gossamer, old world fragility, though dosed with a liberal dollop of paisley fallout and ganja fumigation to taste. Take for instance the slanted, dub-infused transmogrification of Brainiac’s jittery "Nothing Ever Changes", the dreamy, morning sun vibes of album opener "We Believe It", or the relaxed roll of "Let It All Fall Free". Still not convinced? Try on the sleepy-eyed "Bobby in Six-Eight", or the change-up pitching of "A Place in France". May’s vocals are on standout all over the place while remaining understated, frequently harmonizing and floating around themselves with multiple tracking, as with the apparitional "Feel It So Much!", or the delicate notes and flute of the striking "I Been Driftin".
As with the aforementioned Brainiac send-up, Block and May’s love of all things left of the dial is also on display. We Are In It sports a few choice covers, from the trumpet-laden take on Delta 72’s "Just Another Let Down", to the slightly ruminating, flute-clad rendition of Clinic’s "Visitations", and finally a languid, introspective, and wholly enjoyable take on Martha and the Vandellas’ "Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)". Through it all Block and company’s chops are on display, easily moving from reggae to soul to folk and back again, seamlessly and without cliché. This is some groovy stuff, with enough depth and ear candy to give it a cozy place in your record collection for years to come. Add to the package the colorful, handmade cover/sleeve art by May (a visual label mainstay these days), and you’re on track with this crew: industry-eschewing material cranked out with cottage industry creativity, the real folk blues if ever there was any. What in Your Heart Can Put You in a Trance have come away from 2013 with a solid retrospective of their increasingly engaging work, and (hopefully) a compass beacon forward into uncharted territory.