“Been the hottest summer that I’ve known,” begins lead singer Nate Tarr on the opening title track of Wood Ear’s newest album, Steeple Vultures, and the band makes the listener sweat.
“Steeple Vultures” swelters. The humid harmonica and guitar radiate thick waves of heat. Like summer in North Carolina, the pressure from the warmth can seem comforting until it begins to burn. Booming drums and sharp guitars turn the second half of the track into a scorcher.
The oppressive temperature of the opening track sets up the rest of Steeple Vultures nicely. Wood Ear straddles the line between southern rock and Americana and even borrows a few strands of DNA from indie rock (see “Leghold”). This amalgamation of genres is not uncommon, but Wood Ear’s cohesion as band makes this record an exemplar of the growing style.
The champion here is Nathan Golub on guitar. His playing on “Wasteland” - from solos to counter melody - drive the song into anthem territory. There are so many great examples of his playing all over the record, Golub could justifiably list “Guitar hero: 2012-present” on his resume.
Things cool down, refreshingly, with “Beastless Burden.” The recurring line in the bass and steel guitar parts give this lament a hypnotic quality. “Silver Lining” is a great example of how Tarr can make make depressing matters feel redemptive even as it breaks your heart. “The silver lining to dying is that this weight will go away,” he sings bittersweetly.
While Steeple Vultures is only 36 minutes, Wood Ear makes every intense and completely gratifying second of it felt.
Wood Ear will play at The Cave on June 29.