Listening to preview track “Blue Elvis”, embedded below, one receives a first impression of Peals as a languid guitar-based band. But Peals – who fill the speakers, but are actually a duo – are so diverse that no single track can do them justice. Credit the pedigree of William Cashion (Future Islands) and Bruce Willen (Double Dagger), “post-punkers” who have enough experience to know how to craft a debut that doesn’t sound like a debut. Walking Fields is so confident that it sounds more like a third or fourth effort, and the future looks bright for this new collaboration.
“Blue Elvis”, clearly a reference to “Blue Hawaii”, exudes a laid-back island vibe, and is a perfect track to soundtrack slow summers and expansive shores. Apart from the presence of surf guitar, the selection’s most endearing aspect is the presence of hand-tapped percussion. In other words, no drums – just hands, steel and wood. The eight-minute “Floating Leaf”, which precedes “Blue Elvis” on the album, may lack the tapping, but is as comfortable as a beverage break in an Adirondack chair, with ambient textures joined by instinctive guitar lines.
We’re a third of the way into the album, and we’re about to encounter the first surprise. “Belle Air” opens with what sounds like a toy xylophone, joined by a glockenspiel; these instruments, played in semi-abstract fashion, imply wind chimes on a breezy day. This sudden shift draws the attention of the listener like the presence of a happy voice at one’s door. There’s more going on than meets the ear. The unwrapping of gifts continues with the entry of an old friend on “Pendelles”, cellist Kate Barutha. As the cello dissolves into crackle, one wonders what other tricks the duo have up their sleeves. Before the album has ended, the performers will dip into their magician’s box to find a fragment of post-rock (“Lonestar”) and even a garland of drone (the finale of “Believers”).
With so many instruments and timbres in their arsenal, Peals have created a warm and enveloping album, which may be less immediate than their previous work but is just as engaging. As the title implies, the listening experience is like walking through a field: inconsequential at first, until one begins to notice the little things and to happen upon surprises in the weeds. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 14 May