There are a few different, particularly noticeable, ways an artist or band can go about writing music in line with the philosophy of “less is more.” There’s the route of writing literally fewer notes, taken to the extreme by John Cage and his iconic modern composition, “4’33.” Some songs can have many participating elements but keep their individual activity to a dynamically quiet level. Then there’s the method of writing a song with a minimal number of sections involved. The latter of these is where Minneapolis, MN’s The Halcyon Brothers have hung their hat, freshly dusted off in preparation for the release of their new full-length album in nine years, due for release on 29 February.
The Halcyon Brothers are:
Björ6n Oranj (Lyrics, Vocals)
Bosky Rumbluffer (Guitar)
Leading track, “Leaves of the Sea” is but a brief 1:55 in length. Additionally, the song orbits around a single set of lyrics that, if not given undivided attention when played, runs right by with the momentum of a boulder rolling rapidly down a hill. Oranj, who composed the track’s image-laden and setting-driven words, delivers them with nimble quickness but not with so much urgency that the phrases lose comprehension or clear enunciation. Right before the vocal deluge begins however, featured drummer and bassist, Zack Scott, opens the song with a repeated, four measure phrase of syncopated drumming that start the song off with some energetic but easy to grasp tonal character. Unadorned beats coming from deep, almost melodic toms and floor toms, each echo with a ring and a sort of rounded bouncing aesthetic. This gives “Leaves of the Sea” an initially heavier, sonically-grounded personality. It’s only after Oranj and Rumbluffer join in with vocals and the intermittent chord strums of a thin-toned electric guitar, that the song gains some pleasing counter balance.
After eight bars of sound left to reverberate and decay at its own pace, the introduction of Oranj’s vocals are like an instant zoom lens on a wide photograph. Close up and on the drier side of sound with little to no echo, it’s almost as thought Oranj anticipates catching listeners off-guard because the very first line of lyrics – as opposed to the rest of the words for the remainder of the song – are said and followed by a momentary, but still clear-cut, pause before racing forward with unwavering kinetic energy. The propulsion of the song continues in this fashion until the lyrics hit a closing (but open-ended) thought that finishes the story before beginning again.
There was a tree
and there was a man,
and the man in the tree
had a hell of a plan.
He rose to the top
and shook all the leaves,
and all the leaves fell
to the opening sea.
And the opening sea,
had a hell of a curse.
This curse was in fact,
The ultimate worst.
– Lyrics from “Leaves of the Sea”
Instrumentally, it’s interesting to hear Rumbluffer and Scott’s respective parts take on what one might not assume would be most suitable. While Scott’s tom drumming is swapped for light rim shots and an uptempo snare pattern – keeping pace with Oranj but not dynamically overriding him – it’s the deep but dynamically reserved electric bass that provides the most melodic movement, in combination with equally fast paced rhythms. This all while the aforementioned guitar strumming serves as the melodically static rudder for the otherwise bustling band.
Meanwhile, the lyrics themselves aren’t complex at face value. Still, the way Oranj injects vocal character and slightly quirky emotion into the lines as the song progresses, his recitation takes on a quality reminiscent of classic Dr. Seuss stories and it’s almost signature style of animated vocal emphasis when read aloud for audio tapes or original videos. (See the voice over for The Grinch That Stole Christmas animated special.) Alternatively, as the second recitation takes on an increasingly stressed delivery, the song aligns more firmly with its indie and garage stylings as the mildly distorted spoken word interludes evoke thoughts of that which has been sprinkled throughout Cage the Elephant’s repertoire – notably in the single “Teeth,” from 2013 album, Melophobia.
All of these details appear creatively innocuous and inconsequential on their own but together, The Halcyon Brothers offer a song that is filled with color, both tonal and emotional, and in a form that manages to maintain an intangible dimension of intrigue even while cycling through a single concept.
“Leaves of the Sea” is available now.
Find it on Bandcamp.
Stay connected with The Halcyon Brothers through their official website and these social media platforms: