Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Sandwiched between two eagerly-anticipated releases – last week's I Am Very Far from Okkervil River and next week's D by White Denim – this week is a good time for a breather. The kind of reprieve found in the first breath of the pending summer, or the comforting warmth radiating up from a summer field. This the is type of earthy interlude offered by the Denton, Tex-based quintet Seryn on their debut collection, This Is Where We Are, released in late January on Spune Records. And if this review reads less exhaustive than previous versions, that's because it is, but not because the material is wanting but rather there is a bit less to unpack on the 10-track record.

The most unconventional aspect of the folk-country/Americana outfit is its general use of drums and percussion not as foundational elements, but tools to accent their otherwise more obvious banjos, fiddles and accordions – the exact opposite role percussion instruments play in most rock compositions. This instrumental preference is apparent from the outset, as "So Within" debuts with a layered acoustic guitar riff met with the group's hallmark belt-it-out choruses and harmonies. De facto frontman Trenton Wheeler is a near vocal double for now sole Barenaked Ladies leader Ed Robertson (who inherited the reins when former partner Steven Page split in 2009). As the album's shortest piece at 2:29, it benefits from its brevity and allows the listener some cover to familiarize themselves with the group's approach.

Continuing the pattern that extends across the assembled tracks of a gentle intro followed by a more substantive buildup is "Of Ded Moroz," again featuring the group's all-in vocals, the multi-instrumental talents of Wheeler, Nathan Allen (guitars, banjo, etc) and Chris Semmelbeck (organ/accordian, banjo, guitar and drums when needed), and the more melodic contributions of violinist Chelsea Bohrer (bassist Aaron Stoner also fills-in on trumpet and cello). Slightly-longer than its predecessor at 2:56, the number is hearty and purposeful – much in the same vein as previous NMT alt-country profilees Farewell Drifters and Telegraph Canyon – setting the stage for what's to follow.

The quintet should be commended for not burying the heart of their work too deep in the compilation. The expansive "Beach Song" at 7:05 might be mistitled – it's far better suited for a late-nite campfire or summer festival in a yawning field – but its no less effective. Although its in no hurry to get moving, as a solid three minutes pass before its stiffens its spine, its concluding signature – unraveling over another three minutes – is beautifully rendered and stretches out the band's musical range in crescendoing intensity.

Similarly, "We Will All Be Changed" demonstrates the group's capability. Echoing Robertson's own "Easy" with Allen's ebullient acoustic part and flavorful, but not obtrusive accordion work from Semmelbeck through the verses before the full compliment tackles the gang chorus with full gusto, but maybe with just a smidge too much power in relation to the more measured verses.

"Towering" backs down the intensity without loosing much body, again highlighting Bohrer's strings and their selection of banjo treatments. But although "Our Love" suggests something different may be afoot with its Gothic and ominous intro, it falls short of the movement displayed on the earlier cuts. The same is largely true with the remainder of the record, save for the instrumental jamboree of the closing "Untitled," a bright and foot-stomping way to resolve the proceedings.

Come for: "We Will All Be Changed"
Stay for: "Beach Song"
You'll be surprised by: "So Within"

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