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MP3 Above The Orange Trees / Christian Kiefer - The Inexplicable Falling

A split between two northern California artists. Orange Trees'' music evokes the lush songcraft of Jeff Buckley and the Smiths, while Kiefer''s side brings to mind the bleak landscapes of Will Oldham, Songs:Ohia, and Low.

14 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Americana, ROCK: Modern Rock

1. Above the Orange Trees

There is an intense inner sadness in all great art. It is a sense of mortality, of impermanence. The Spanish call it “duende” and slain surrealist poet Federico García Lorca wrote a series of essays dancing around this idea, this duende. He wrote that duende emanates from “the remotest mansions of the blood,” that its “black sounds are the mystery” of art and of passion.

Duende is exactly what Above the Orange Trees embodies. This embodiment is apparent from the first notes of The Inexplicable Falling. It is nothing short of a celebration of duende, a celebration of life in the face of ever-pressing mortality.

Above the Orange Trees’ frontman Jeff Pitcher recorded a critically acclaimed solo album in 2001, A Terrible Beauty (Mudita Records). A hastily assembled band was formed strictly for the recording, but in that band came the essential core of what would become Above the Orange Trees. Desperate to recreate the studio sound on the concert stage, Pitcher recruited some of the best musicians in San Francisco and was at last able to bring his vision alive.

Above the Orange Trees is that living vision. Joined by cello virtuoso Kristina Forester, violinist Sara Jo Zaharako, bassist Ron Guensche, and drummer Eddie Pollard, Pitcher’s music looks forward by looking back. Icelandic dream-rockers Sigur Rós come to mind, as does OK Computer-era Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, and Bjork, and the lush sounds of The Cure and The Smiths. The sound is airy, sweeping, and emotional.

Above the Orange Trees’ music for The Inexplicable Falling is the embodiment and furtherance of its influences. From a swirl of guitars, violins, and cellos, the band’s opening track, “Erendira,” promises a lush soundscape. But that soundscape disintegrates. The joy of the first two tracks begins to slow, to falter, to question. The interplay of Pitcher’s guitar and Forester’s cello circle like sad lovers as the instruments begin to fall away. In the end, a simple man, alone, plays piano and sings out, to anyone who might listen.

The band is in the process of recording a full-length project based loosely on Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. This album, I Am Not in Spain, will be released later this summer.

2. Christian Kiefer

1999 saw the release of Christian Kiefer’s debut full-length CD, Welcome to Hard Times, a release that one German reviewer described as “folk music free of its leaves and deadwood.” Garnering fans such as composer Terry Riley, former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Kiefer’s blend of ambient soundscapes and acoustic-based songs took Europe by critical storm.

In the years that followed, Kiefer worked on a live presentation of those same songs and began writing and recording a follow-up, Medicine Show, to be released in the summer of 2002 by Extreme Music.

Kiefer counts himself heavily influenced by traditional American folk music and also by noise and experimental sound; these influences show in his own work as a songwriter. His work for The Inexplicable Falling falls mostly in the post-folk category, with the notable exception of a noise “solo” in “Original” (performed by Kiefer on a bowed, heavily distorted banjo).

Very often, today’s music is recorded with layers upon layers of overdubs, pitch correction, huge studio effects and massive compression. Early on, the decision was made to do away with these contemporary conventions and to do something more simple and, by the same token, more musical. “I was listening to the Smithsonian recordings of Doc Boggs when it hit me,” Kiefer explains. “All this studio tweaking is counter to what recording is about: capturing a genuine performance.” (The spirit of Doc Boggs is certainly present on the CD, particularly in “Radium,” a banjo-driven tune that could pass easily for a 1960s-era field recording.)

Kiefer is assisted on The Inexplicable Falling by multi-instrumentalist Scott Leftridge, a member of indie rock trio the Schumann Residence. It is his work on pump organ and piano that help press these songs into the realm of the extraordinary. It is music of wood and grain, Americana in the best sense of the word, and it is a chilling tale of hope and desolation

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