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CD Review: Peasant / Shady Retreat

April 20, 2010 by  
Filed under CD Reviews, Daily Music News

Peasant
Shady Retreat
Paper Garden Records

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

 Reviewed by:  Dorise Gruber

 Shady Retreat Track Listing:
Thinking
The Distance
Well Alright
The End
Pry

 

 

Shady Retreat Track Listing:
Thinking
The Distance
Well Alright
The End
Pry
Prescriptions
Into The Woods
Tough
Hard Times
Slow Down


You know how when you’re traveling, sometimes the music you’re listening to fits the fluctuating landscape so perfectly, you can’t help but become entirely engrossed in the moment?  You stare out the window, you concentrate on the mellow lyrics and sweet strumming, and you get caught up in an overwhelming period of self-reflection.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the Volkswagen late 90’s commercial for the Cabrio, featuring Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.”) The calm, steady melodies of Peasant, monicker of singer/songwriter Damien DeRose, could easily be the tunes floating to create these transformative moments.

Peasant’s newest album, Shady Retreat, was released through Paper Garden Records just last month.  Currently, it’s extremely under the radar, but this record has serious potential for a solid following among indie kids and their hippie parents alike.  It may run for just under a half hour, but the 10-track release packs in quite a bit of soul, bending rhythm, and haunting lyrics.

The disc kicks off with “Thinking.”  Though not the boldest song on the album, it sets the tone for what’s to come.  The melody is carried by a couple piano chords, low-key guitar, and a simple shaker to keep the beat.  The piano rises and falls, but in an understated way, so that we focus primarily on DeRose’s vocals, the lyrics featured prominently in this song and throughout the cd.

The first time I heard “The Distance,” it immediately reminded me of “Second Hand News” by Fleetwood Mac.  The way DeRose hits his falsetto in a similar key-scheme is reminiscent of this legendary 70s band, though “The Distance” is far more down-beat.  The lyrics mourn loneliness and decry alienation from lovers, friends, and fellow man, faded “to the distance of each other” and “the distance of the past.”

“Well Alright” is my favorite song on the cd, and was my first exposure to Peasant, featured on the Indiefeed Podcast.  The poppy-est song on the album, the piano chords are basic, the drum beat straightforward, and vocals almost Jason Schwartzman-esque from Coconut Records.  The tonal quality of DeRose’s voice here is airy but still a little nasal and a little tinny.  There’s something extremely catchy and reassuring about hearing “Well Alright,” a complacent, laissez-faire hook, repeated throughout the song.  This song is so addicting, I assure you that your roommate is going to need to stage an intervention to get you to quit hitting the “repeat” button..

“The End” sort of reminds me of Blind Pilot, or maybe even a stripped-down Republic Tigers song, the way that the soft vocals intertwine with the clean guitar.  This is also the song that probably reminds me the most of the title of the album, conjuring images of sitting under a shady tree on an autumn day, watching the golden and fiery leaves flutter around you as they glint with sunlight.  Even if you’re as lonely as the character in “The End,” DeRose’s cooing has the capacity to put you in touch with that emotion and sooth you through it.

“Pry,” a marching waltz, introduces twangy vocals that lift the song up to be lighter than the heavy melody and lyrics may suggest.  When DeRose’s voice drifts into minor breaks, it snaps you out of the monotony of the rest of the song and grants a deeper connection, saving it from what might otherwise be just a little too plain.

While I really like the majority of this album, I will be honest when I say that until you get to the chorus, I don’t particularly care for “Prescriptions.”  It’s got a horse-clopping sound in the background, and the vocals, while intentionally dissonant, I find sort of painful.  Though he hits a couple of pretty notes, if I’m listening to the album all the way through, I’m likely to hit the “skip” button on this track.  I can see, though, where some people could get really into this sound, so feel free to disagree with me!

“Into the Woods,” the longest track on the album, reminds me loosely of Bon Iver, but has a little more hope in it.  It’s propelled by a swaying rhythm, almost as if you could oscillate back and forth in a hammock to the whole song, eyes closed, swinging to the melody.

“Tough” strikes me as sort of the album doodle, under 2 minutes, but squeezing in some rich emotion to this postage stamp of a song.  A tale of opposites, DeRose croons how he won’t leave his lover’s side despite everything else.  The lyrics to “Tough” propel this quaint track.

“Hard Times” is reminiscent of 70s folk, with the echoey production on the track updating it to still give it a current feel.  It nestles into the rest of the album in a downplayed manner, and could easily be put on a tape of lullabies if you’re looking to find something subdued for your kid to fall asleep without assaulting your own ears.

“Slow Down” feels kind of like a leisurely wave goodbye to Peasant’s listeners, consolidating not only the soothing sound of the rest of the album, but then re-hashing some of the poppy-ness you find hidden in pockets of the record.  As it fades out, the song never really quite ends, so you still hear DeRose humming his way off the album.  This ending is a perfect way to close Shady Retreat, and promises more brilliance from Peasant to come! 

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For more info visit Peasant on MySpace

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