A fairy glade that lures you to a battleground: this is the sparkling beauty and whimsical interplay of traditional and modern on Tall Trees’ debut EP, Mayday.
On my first listen, I had volume low and was charmed, soothed, and bemused by the alternately meditative and energizing fusion of acoustic and straight-up video-game sounds. On the second, the lyrics grabbed my cheeks with both hands and made me look at hard topics and difficult feelings.
Mayday feels like a grandchild of Enigma’s Sadeness, Part 1. Where Sadeness turned Gregorian chant cyberpunk, Mayday brings folk and rock tropes into a world where our homemade banana bread isn’t a success unless it goes viral on Tik Tok.
Stream along on Spotify as we go track-by-track (and then buy on Bandcamp).
Sparse acoustic guitar notes fall like spring rain behind vocals that evoke (in an eerily dream-pop way) a movie scene of ladies in sunbonnets shape-note-singing a hymn in a rural church. This mist of nostalgia turns out to be the air of a “thick stale space”: we come not to adore the values of the past but to critique them.
The mood shifts to urgency as Marthe Ryerson’s vocals take an eerily Siri-like tone in recounting horrors, before being answered by Joe Russo’s grittier tone. Back when Lefsetz was constantly complaining about lack of new protest songs, he probably expected a revival of folk guitar promises to overcome. This, though, this is a protest song for the 21st century. It turns the New Wave dance beat of your youth (if you’re a Gen Xer) or your parents’ old faves (if you’re younger) into a march of defiance.
It’s the visceral experience of doom-scrolling: one thing blending into another, so many of them semi-familiar or explained in sweetly rational terms, none of it individually loud and aggressive, and yet it’s all too much. Chris Cook’s bass and Wes Cross’s drum lines your grip on sanity, and it’s such a sneaky little demonstration of how bass and drum hold a song together.
This is the musical version of the famous seven-layer meme. The references go all the way back through the history of pop music without being samples. They layer like competing car radios, they clash, they resolve only into being in a world of pain—and a lovely organic “la la la” that takes on the tempo of a police siren. It’s a protest. It’s a lament. It’s lauding the “good old days” using memes on social media. It’s brilliant and I want to hold people down and make them listen to it. (Or take them out on the dance floor and make them listen to it.)
The deliberate half-familiarity of the sound tantalizes with the kind of meditative snippet that albums used to end with, back in the 1980s. Laura Flachbart’s cello from Brightest Day is back, elegiac now, to underline the final deconstructive statement of the EP: instead of offering closure, it blesses the need to crack open and change.