“Thomas Edison’s last words were “It’s very beautiful over there”. I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
– John Green, “Looking for Alaska”
This quote by renowned author John Green is the line offered, as a sort of greeting, to newcomers in the world of Denver, CO based, alternative folk trio, Edison. It’s remarkable how the unspecified location referred to by Green fits the trio just so perfectly, as Edison’s past, present and future involve exploration of new places and hopeful aspirations amidst uncertainty.
(formerly of The Lumineers)
There’s a beauty with which Green’s words simultaneously reflect Edison on a literal, emotional and musical level. Less than a year into their time as a band, the trio have journeyed to and from several states for shows –traveling as far east as New York City for this year’s CMJ Music Marathon. New emotional territory is something with which Slaton has continually dealt since her mother’s passing – a significant point of inspiration represented on the band’s debut EP, “Ghosts” – and now, the band face the transition to new song frontiers with the release of the single, “Civil War.”
Set apart from the overarching life story that makes Edison a band, “Civil War” is, like the trio’s previous repertoire, genuine and true to their folk based songwriting aesthetic. Instrumentation alone draws one’s ear, as an exposed mandolin starts off a friendly four note hook to the three and a half-minute track. Lower guitar notes drop in almost immediately, like a steadily beating heart underneath, followed not long after by Slaton’s gentle but seasoned voice – hanging with a faint trace of longing on the ends of her words – setting scenes that might require more than a couple of play throughs before the intricacy of “Civil War’s” imagery really forms in the mind’s eye.
“There’s a river that flows
from your brain down to your chest
and a sinking ship
with no safety vests.”
The song’s chorus is lyrically uncomplicated (“My head, my heart, are raging a civil war”) and while the dynamics vacillate between softer and louder with verse and chorus respectively, nowhere is there a sudden introduction of anything dramatically jarring. No addition of seven overdubbed parts or attention-grabbing breakdowns to shake up the patterns “Civil War” established at the start. This shouldn’t be mistaken for deficit though.
The use of a classic “call and response” structure, tossed back and forth between the vocals, strummed guitar and pulsing floor tom/rim hits, makes “Civil War” an ideal song for crowd participation, which will logically fill any of the openness left in the arrangement when performed live. Moreover, decisions regarding instruments and note length at key sections of the track provide an extra layer of sophistication and subtle support for the song’s titular theme, in a way that doesn’t bombard listeners or mock their intelligence.
One of the most eloquent displays of this subtlety is through the combination of lyrics and instrumentation during the pre-chorus. The guitar and mandolin are boosted by more prominently played floor toms, sonically enhancing a description of “lines…drawn / cannons locked and raised arms.” Here, the feeling of a classic march is momentarily evoked; as though one could picture Slaton, Morris and Hughes pacing through an open field to battle and playing their instruments in time to the click of a locking barrel.
It’s also worth noting how Edison opt for the simplicity of singing things like harmonized perfect intervals in order to augment their sound, again, without becoming overbearing or breaking the mood of the song. Ironically, the apex of the track’s intensity shines through at one of its most bare points: Morris’s nearly a capella recitation of the chorus, complete with his own injection of vulnerability and legato style delivery. Each of these components blended with a moderate reverb effect gives “Civil War” an all-around stark quality that enhances the line it walks between conveying the fierce and the delicate.
Described on a more macro and conceptual level, (hence the immediate need for more than one listen,) the scenarios elicited through “Civil War” are vastly different from one another. (A doomed ship, a tempestuous battlefield and one’s inner spirit.) Yet, each are linked by the underlying existence of deep passions, struggle and a fear of failure. The ease with which one can arrive at this conclusion, despite superficial variation in lyrics, shows how adept Edison are at aligning their desired message without reliance on a single route of symbolism. Ultimately, the number of ways listeners may find themselves connecting with “Civil War” – outside its fundamental meaning – reveals its true strength as a song and serves as a great reminder to composers about the importance of the phrase, “sometimes less is more.”
“Civil War” will be available tomorrow, 24 November, via Bandcamp.
Keep up with Edison through these social media outlets, as they prepare to tackle a massive amount of songwriting and a slew of show dates for an upcoming tour! (Information below)
Edison: The Open Road Tour
November 28 Sue Ellens (Dallas, TX)
November 29 Pearl Bar (Houston, TX)
December 5 Arcosanti Ampitheatre (Arcosanti, AZ)
December 7 The Rebel Lounge (Phoenix, AZ)
December 8 The Underground (Santa Fe, NM)
December 10 Taos Mesa Brewing (Taos, NM)
December 11 Larimer Lounge (Denver, CO)
December 12 Hodi’s Half Note (Fort Collins, CO)