Album Review: Miner – Tuanaki
The defining characteristic of Miner’s brand of indie rock is total immersion; the sound pulls you deeply into the song, requiring a kind of concentration. This is not just the trashy background music for your keg party. This is the kind of thoughtful-yet-melodic music that helps to keep indie rock’s reputation from totally fragmenting into disturbing subgenres. It is not an overstatement to put them in the same category as Fleet Foxes.
Sometimes sounding like Edward Sharpe, other times having a unique tone comfortably in the tenor register, Justin Miner really soars when he wants to. Accompanied by his wife Kate, the remarkable married combination does not have the typical male-female duo style of ordinary folk rock. Instead, this kind of music is layered and challenging in all the right ways.
“Better Instincts” gets things going with a contemplative toe tapper. Then “Lead Me to the Water” has shades of gospel, calling out like a baptism of sound. The way that Miner pronounces “wa-ter” as if it’s got an extra syllable just gives the song a little extra flourish. The organ in the background coupled with a good driving beat makes the song captivating. The imagery of the water and the relationship works nicely.
“Paper Moon” feels a little more like the typical folk duo, but still preserves the right kind of mystery. I picture it being the kind of song written while out under a full moon, or better yet a sliver of a moon while gazing at the kind of full sky of stars that makes you feel utterly infinitesimal. The guitar helps to carve out a slow rolling beat that feels comfortable, allowing your ear to focus on the lead vocal’s intonations and call.
“Running with the Wolves” has the sense of being in a chase. The rhythm really moves the piece and the vocal harmonies feel just right. The full sound, including and especially the guitars, work really nicely in the kind of indie rock that helps me to define the genre. One gets the sense from the track that the band is really close knit; since three of them are related, I guess that’s probably a fair assessment. They sing, though, like they are having fun and have something to sing about.
“Bonfire Cabaret” could legitimately be a hipster anthem. Seriously the melody is infectious, the beat gets heads bobbing, and the song just feels infinitely singable. It’s the kind of song that is far more difficult than it feels. The following “Barley Bird” is, according to the band’s site, a retelling of a famous Keats poem. But even without knowing that detail, you’ll get the sense that the song is ironically romantic. It engages the listener in a way that feel transcendent. If you’ve ever seen a painting where there’s a vast landscape with one tiny house or barn or some piece of subject that just seems too small for the composition… that’s how this song makes me feel… like I’m in that house.
The title track “Tuanaki” is about an island in the South Pacific that supposedly disappeared some time ago. But the song’s composition is one of my favorites on the entire album. The melody is comforting and the guitars give just the right kind of accents to the sound. Again I bring in the Fleet Foxes comparison here. That layered harmony and precise tenor tone seeps through on this track more than any other on the album and it is – in a word – glorious.
The final track “Carry Me Away” is an exceptional outro to an excellent album. “I will not wade into the river… I will not follow you to the sea… I cannot wait to be delivered darlin… no ship would carry one like me.” Wow. Poetic, carefully written, beautifully lyrical, and the harmonies are enough to stop me in my tracks. This might be the best track on one of the best albums of the year. Hell, there’s even a banjo.
This is an outstanding album with several great songs. Without a doubt this will make it onto my top albums of 2016 list. There are no skip tracks (although I had to skip two here for length). If you’re a fan of folk rock music or indie rock music overall, you simply MUST know this album. This is my go-to album this year for when I hear people say “they don’t make music like they used to.” Actually they do, goshdarnit, and sometimes it’s even better!