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Tree Branch Twig goes epic on self-titled

Des Moines, Iowa tape label Warm Gospel has been trading in hazed-out sounds for several years now. Their releases usually lean toward the electronic end of things, but Tree Branch Twig Trio’s new tape displays an organic interpretation of this aesthetic.

Composed of a single 43 minute-long piece divided across two sides of tape, Side A titled “the hell-bent & heaven sent” and Side B being “the mountain’s underwater”, it is an exercise in Deep Listening. The piece starts with a simple circular pattern played on guitar. Incremental changes form over time, as cello and bass creep in, echoing and bolstering the guitar line. Vocals start out buried in the mix, and grow bolder across the first six minutes. There is a soulful push to Lindsay Keast’s voice, which nicely offsets the coldness of the ambient backing. Eventually the singing builds to a crescendo, voices harmonizing passionately.

After the inaugural vocal statement, things become more sparse, haunting reverb supporting slight bass lines. Delay-drenched effects create ambience beneath the spiralling progression. The instruments intersect and detach, following each other loosely, but intently, around. It is the sound of searching–but executed with maximum focus–disciplined music in which every note serves the whole.

The song continues to slowly unfold, soft ambience operating as a calming counterpoint to the increasingly dark and distorted filigree. Feedback and reverb envelop the sound like a warm blanket. In the second half of the piece, the guitar becomes more prominent as the repeated bass line entrenches itself while other elements swirl around it, building in intensity. Distant vocal harmonies arrive 32+ minutes in, guiding the composition out of its darker ambitions with plaintive and wordless invocations. The distortion becomes grittier, the form beginning to decompose beneath the pained choir.

The restraint in each musician is admirable. While playing at a dirge-like tempo, the feel never drags. Kelsi Thrap’s bass leaves space where others may overplay and communicating in a spiderweb fashion with the guitar. The cello, played by Jessica Villegas, maximizes distant effects in lieu of traditional notes and tones. Lindsay Keast, who coined the Tree branch Twig moniker as initially as a solo performer, anchors the sound with spare, yet insistent, guitar. Her keening vocals, intoning lyrics such as “I don’t care about the future/if the future’s anything like now”,

Sometimes the journey itself is part of the point. Tree branch Twig Trio’s ability to contextualize their minimalist drone within traditional songform, albeit at a glacial level of unfolding, binds the piece together across its full 43 minutes and 15 seconds. Despite the length, there is not a wasted note, all sounds serving the greater whole.

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