Album Review: Shallow Lenses – War Poems EP

Seattle-based folk rock outfit Shallow Lenses is one of those acts that shows elite musicianship and really enjoyable songwriting. The band came to my attention through Planes on Paper artist, Navid Eliot. When he told me he was working on this new project, I suspected something with a more traditional folk sound. Instead, this captures more of a CSNY vibe, with plenty of poetic lyricism and quality performance.

The opener “Take it to the table” covers a major theme of confronting reality. It’s about acknowledging who we are as people and a society. The layers of strings and horns work together for a surprisingly “big” sound given the genre conventions of folk rock. There’s an orchestral sense to the composition style, too, that is really satisfying and again, unexpected for the genre.

The following “WWI” makes me wish the band included lyrics on the bandcamp page. (How I long for the old days of liner notes!) That said, it’s not clear if it’s a song actually about the historical first world war, or if it’s about conflict within a relationship. The metaphorical lyrics are interesting, though, and being open to interpretation gives it a much more artful flavor. The vocal harmonies on this one are pretty fun. You get the sense these guys write with a more literate maturity than most emerging artists we cover.

“Bag of Bones” has a nice slow tempo, with a wailing-then-whispered lead vocal that reminds me of Rayland Baxter. The chord progression is really clean, more like something you’d hear from Dawes. In fact, the two bands I think about most listening to Shallow Lenses are Dawes (high praise) and Chicago (higher praise). So yeah, this is a pretty sweet collection of tracks and there’s a sense that they can continue to develop as they play together more.

“Dinosaurs” takes on a mysterious feel, something more akin to Fleet Foxes. It’s got a cool rhythm and a comfortable vibe that stands out compared to other tracks on the album. “Crime and Punishment” comes in with a fascinating Billy Joel-style piano part. The contemplative style on the opening piano solo leads nicely to the full band breakdown. It’s like these guys went through the hits of the 70s and just updated them for our world. I don’t say that as a dig, though. They’re synthesizing a sound that, frankly, feels welcome in a world of digital remixes and electro wubba wubbas. It’s nice just to hear real musicians and real instruments like this.

The final track “Sometimes the Moon” brings the album home with a fascinating harmony element. It navigates a territory that feels at one point Beatles, but most totally like a CSNY style folk track. The lyrics are existential and intriguing, requiring the listener to contemplate the meaning of life. It seems like a song that would work well around a camp fire.

All told, this is an album that many of our readers would enjoy. It has several elements of classic rock music, yet is communicated with a contemporary urgency that I find deeply rewarding. There will be plenty more listens of the Shallow Lenses debut EP, with hopeful eyes toward future releases from them.

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