As the title and cover art of Bethesda's Dreamtiger & Other Tails not-so subtly suggest, the Ohio band's latest EP (official release is May 7) is a lively foray into the ethereal. The varied instrumentation and delightfully curious orchestration are bound by a talent for colorful narrative that speaks of scattered ashes, farmer's hands, river banks, cattail whips, Mother, hearts, empty halls and handwritten letters, dreamers and lovers. The result is an engaging 20-plus minutes of storytelling, pensive lullabies for adults.
Vocalist Shanna Delaney carries each tune with a commanding presence that often sings more to Broadway than Beachland Ballroom – fitting as her performance tends to steal the show. Her dulcet tones are dynamic, leading – not adapting to – the music swirling around her. While comparisons to the twee drawl of Zooey Deschanel or Jenny Lewis are not without merit, her delivery has more in common with sometimes sultry, usually enigmatic, rarely imitative authenticity of Gillian Welch and Neko Case. The undeniably talented band – guitarist/vocalist Eric Ling; lead guitarist, vocalist, key man Jesse Sloan; bassist Dan Corby and drummer Justin Rife – find a musical cohesion and confidence that allows for studied experimentation. The whole package emanates with seemingly effortless aplomb, further lulling listeners into a contemplative submission.
"A Song for the Peasant Farmer" launches the EP with a playful punchiness. The guitars have a shimmering, angular lilt that has much in common with the creative vibrations of The National. Delaney's vocals bubble and subdue, guiding a snare-driven drill march in the final minute, tensely building to a crescendo that never arrives, though it doesn't seem anti-climatic, but rather restrained.
"Oh! How We Crane our Throats" plays up the decidedly folk stylings of the band, as loose banjo and fiddle flutter behind Delaney's buoyant effusing: Mother said / what's lost can always be found. The track quickly evolves, as Delaney's idiosyncratic delivery follows a shuffling clap-along sing-song that rolls with string flourishes, plucky banjo, tinging bells and percussive splashes.
The cheery disposition takes a backseat on "Homage," a haunting, crawling, harmony-laden number with ringing, repetitive acoustic picking, emotive cello, and lyrics: dear mother, don't cry / your love is strong / it carries me / all dressed up in white / dark memories flee / once trapped, now free.
Indie proclivities guide "Upon This Rock," as speedy high-hat work gives way to heartier cymbal bashing exercises; stop-start clean guitar transitions into a familiar uptempo strum, and male-female dueling vocals compete for attention.
"Dreamtiger" closes the EP with among the album's most wide-eyed imagery: 'Cause I know behind your dead eyes / there lives a dreamscape of nights /with stars that pulse in the skies / and take me under / take us under / in the light, in the light / stars erupt a thousand times. The song sings of the youthful naivety associated with hope, love and longing, and the inescapable realities of life. It's about uncovering meaning in the sublime. Two minutes in, Delaney takes center stage, the spotlight, briefly unaccompanied before being backed with more minimalist strings. It's soaring, repeating "we believe" and "we are free." It's a fitting finale to an all-to-short offering from a young band with many more stories to tell.