Early Branch - Mirror (2019)
I suppose most album reviews coincide with a release or even happen in advance, but with everything in the world being so unprecedented I figured why not open these reviews up to some of the best from our city over the last few years?
With that, I decided to dive into the debut EP from locals Early Branch, which we covered around its release in January of 2019. Listening to it back again under this new context of reviewing the album, it holds up even more than it initially did. They make a statement right off the bat with “You Thought You Saw Me Crying,” a spacious and laid back indie rock song that finds the band employing some fairly sparse production in favor of letting the trio’s individual instruments shine.
That’s not to say they’re white knuckling it in any way, because you certainly don’t hear the songs yearning for more. The dynamics are there and the sonics, but this one is about performance. They follow it up with “Boy You’re So Stupid,” which reminds me a lot of a band like Real Estate in terms of its chord progressions and structure. There’s a dissonance here that comes only from having a truly ingrained sense of melody that’s derivative (in a positive way) of the best of the 90s.
Mirror sounds human, which is what makes this project even more appealing. “Into the Vortex” is a good example of when things get a little more experimental and ethereal. It’s quite obviously a nod to Pink Floyd in little ways, but overall there’s something unique about an indie rock trio going for epic and prog-infused. It works really, really well.
On the EP, the band lands in this really special place balancing indie rock sensibilities with psychedelic guitar work, and it’s something that I haven’t heard done so genuinely in a while.
Hannah Wicklund - The Inbetween (2020)
Hannah Wicklund is best known as a guitar virtuoso in the blues-rock band Hannah Wicklund & the Steppin’ Stones. She’s one of the best guitar players you’ll probably ever hear, which is a good part of the reason she’s become a buzzed-about artist all over the world in just a few short years. Wicklund used to play regularly in Savannah when she lived in the area, and the now-Los Angeles-based musician has graduated to festival stages and clubs in the U.S., Europe, and beyond. Her band’s most recent full-length showcased what an incredible songwriter she is as well as a guitarist, and now she’s put that on an ever bigger display with The Inbetween.
The Inbetween is a solo venture, with Wicklund on guitar and piano. It’s a collection of songs from the band album, reworked into a solo arrangement. This context really puts the emphasis on Wicklund’s voice, which is incredibly powerful and has a very magnetic quality to it—something rare in singers these days. “Meet You Again” has a very Led Zeppelin III vibe to it, complete with drop tuning and percussive rhythms. “Ghost” is a totally haunting song (no pun intended) with just Wicklund and her electric guitar, and it’s so good that you never really feel like you’re listening to just one guitar and vocal.
“Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces” is really unique here because of the protest-folk feel of the guitar picking stands out so immensely. Lyrically, WIcklund stands out on a song like this—beautiful imagery and heartbreaking storytelling that you may not get the same impression of with a band behind it. It’s raw, emotionally bare, and pretty staggering.