Clay Cantrell

The Tree Farmer

It's about damned time I posted something about a House of Alchemy release. Label-honcho Adam Richards has sent me (I think) about eight tapes and three CD-r's over the past twelve moths or so. In my defense, one of the reasons I haven't been able to write about any of them is because... well, it's because most of them leave me pretty much wordless. That's not so much a "this is amazing" or "this is terrible" remark (in fact, nothing Richards has sent me so far has been even close to bad) as it is a "this is all just fucking strange" thing. The music is so consistently and sincerely challenging that it's been difficult to harness anything that remotely hints at a coherent description into a review. And that's not necessarily to say that I won't keep stabbing away at some of these (the Mama Bäer CD, especially), it's just been tough. So I wonder if reviewing this Clay Cantrell tape, which is far and away the most accessible thing I've heard from the label yet, is something of a cop-out. But with just six well-defined and rounded tracks here and not much more than a guitar, a voice, piano, and the occasional viola contribution from collaborator Ashley Morris, The Tree Farmer isn't just easier to wrap the brain around, it's also a truly pretty release of songs that showcases a real talent that requires a review. Lack-of-weirdness cop-out or not (yeah, I know... not exactly the TOME's MO), this is regardless a tape that is well deserving of some serious deck time.

Though it sounds like The Tree Farmer was either recorded or dubbed a little bit hot with some noticeable distortions in the bass, the noise comes across almost as an intentional element to the compositions, giving these fragile melodies some grit, grime and bite that serves them surprisingly well. Cantrell's approach is a nice combination of folk stylings and psychedelic, raga-esque meanderings, which are much more rponounced on the b-side as in the lenghty "untitled (Morning)." Overall the tape has an outdoorsy quality to it, fire-pit guitar jams backed with soothing moans in the vocals. Cantrell's voice sounds pushed to hit some of the higher notes, straining to get up there, but delivering with an honest passion that reminds me a lot of Dean Wareham hammering out a Galaxie 500 classic. Able to raise goosebumps with stripped-down setups and simple songcraft, Cantrell (like Wareham) lets the performance and delivery do a hefty portion of the work. Some tracks are built around single chord strums while vocals and guitars whale on top, groaning in "Late Aster Girl"'s battered beauty, the mix bludgeoned with bass as a backbeat ticks its way across the piece's breadth. Teeth-grinding moments here for sure, but also thrilling, aching, and altogether gorgeous.

I don't have a ton of info on Clay Cantrell's history, but if this were his debut I'd be majorly surprised. Cantrell is a gifted songwriter and a pretty good player, too. His spacing and timing throughout The Tree Farmer is impecible, allowing jams to extend and swirl themselves into satisifying sections of sheer psychedelia when appropriate. Elsewhere, finger-picking in his acoustic guitar has the gentleness of Nick Drake which is a tough thing to complain about. Whether or not you know anything about this guy, this tape would have to be an excellent place to start learning.


Clay Cantrell on Bandcamp

House of Alchemy

November 27th, 2012