Under the Veneer is a winter album, although not the sort of winter album one expects. The set is meant to evoke feelings of home and safety: a hearth, a blanket, a shelter from the cold. The music coats the listener like wool, its smooth edges and round sounds providing a patina of peace.
Jeads (Jonathan Eads) discovers triple inspiration in a snowstorm, a music box and a painting. The snowstorm led him to hike around the Washington forest, recording samples that would later become percussion: shoveled snow and broken branches make a shaker sound, which is apparent in the first two tracks. Footsteps, snow balls and icicles make appearances as well, so well integrated they are sometimes hard to spot. But the set’s primary instrument is an old music box that sounds new again, reinvigorated by the evergreen air. The timbre is not tinny, but full-bodied in a manner reminiscent of a vibraphone. One can view the music box on the cover, attached to the painting. Those who own such music boxes learn by trial and error that both tone and volume are enhanced in proximity to a resonant object. Hold one in the hand and the instrument sounds like a child’s toy; turn the handle while the music box is on a dresser, and it sounds like a proclamation.
The quickening title track provides an early highlight. The swirls grow more insistent as the percussion grows more active, like a winter storm. This veneer is literal and metaphoric, an invitation to “scratch beneath the surface.” A music box may be more than notes, but memory; a painting may be cherished more after it is worn. In the same manner, an attempt at humor may disguise pain and a loss may produce character. As the first single is “On the Mend,” one suspects that Eads looks at life through the lens of endurance: surviving and ultimately thriving. This is a feeling many may get from winter, but Eads’ reference to “broken and loving homes” provides a window through which the listener may peer. The painting has traveled with him through several homes, and has now become a new work of art, set against a red backdrop that highlights the heart, set again atop a seascape of winter blue, and surrounded by a border of white. The fact that one must magnify the image to see the sea highlights the theme of looking under the veneer; the same is true of looking beneath the surface of our own experiences to find hidden meaning. While life provides the experience, we supply the frame. (Richard Allen)