Tomten – Artichoke
Seattle’s baroque-pop quartet’s latest goes more psych-folk & power-pop with pastoral edges reminiscent of the vintage Scottish multi-instrumentalist Robin Williamson’s Incredible String Band. Their musical adventure has vividness & Tomten is appealing with reservations.
They are innovative & the 12 tunes on their latest CD Artichoke (Drops April 28–Plume Records) show their Americana delicacy but at times may grate the ear of a traditionalist. Sometimes, there’s a little too much-added pop sugar. The songs are solidly played & written but it’s the production “sound” that may at times be questionable.
That’s not to say they don’t have a good showcase. I found it entertaining. Lots of bright guitar playing that chimes like The Byrds & it’s arranged in deliberate phases of beauty. Though their framework is admirable in their own aspiring folky tunefulness what they paint has vivid colors – maybe too vivid to be rootsy. Yet, I admit the material has its charm.
I think what falls short is the production. It relies on vocal treatments where they’re not needed. Let the vocalist sing with some organic spirituality. It allows him to be expressive. The musicianship is always sensible. “Mind How You Go,” & “Lizard In the Grass” both could’ve been stronger if the instrumentation didn’t compete with the singer. Mix it down a tad.
The melodies are quite good. The band is no stranger to good grooves. But again on “Ursula,” the vocal treatment is added for some strange reason. Elvis didn’t use echo in every song. It doesn’t reinforce the human voice it renders it chilly; It should be warm in this genre. Especially on such a lovely song.
Is it so hard to tread on the weightier ground? Sonics don’t always help. The melodies can stand on their own & they’re memorable. “Poppies On the Mountainside,” is far better – beautiful guitar picking & it’s a heartwarming ballad. Excellent.
It’s commendable & not easy to reach back to a far-gone era & incorporate vintage balladry to today’s sensibilities. Two groups that succeeded used real Medieval string instruments. Amazing Blondell with Eddie Baird (later came Magna Carta (Seasons LP), Strawbs’ “Witchwood,” Lindisfarne & Horslips.
The early AB was too ancient & traditional but later — songs like “On a Night Like This,” “Sitting by the Window,” “Mulgrave Street/Iron & Steel,” “All I Can Do” “Seascape” (Live) & “Love Must Be The Best Time of Your Life” – that’s where Tomten should aspire & they can. Without treatments. Because, “Dry Creek,” is exceptional & closer to that alluring Eddie Baird style. Loaded with melody. So are “Song To the Druid” & “Time of Uncertainty.”
Highlights – “Poppies On the Mountainside,” “Dry Creek,” “Lizard In the Grass,” “Song To the Druid” & “Time of Uncertainty,” “Ursula,” “Caterpillar Hill,” Grapefruit Sea” & “Mind How You Go.”
Musicians – Lena Simon (vocals/bass), Brian Noyes (vocals/keys/guitars/bass), Dillon Sturtevant (vocals/guitars/bass), Jake Brady (guitars/bass/drums) & Bryan Appleby (drums/vocals).
CD with samples @ https://tomtenmusic.bandcamp.com/album/artichoke