Three years on from the gorgeous And the Surrounding Mountains
, Radar Brothers' Jim Putnam drifts through the same swooning, broody territories in his fourth full-length. Supported again by bassist Senon Gaius Willams and drummer Steve Goodfriend (who was also in The For Carnation), Putnam packs multiple layers of sound into shimmering mirages of song. As always, you'll hear shades of misty Pink Floyd, psych-trippy Beatles and the wavering Neil Young. The songs have a ruminative warmth and casualness to them, yet crystalline production allows you to hear every element. One of the real joys of "The Fish", for instance, is listening to Williams's bass rumble up like thunder out of the song's depths, as sonically distinct and relevant as Putnam's whispery voice or long, reverberating guitar notes.
Like And the Surrounding Mountains, The Fallen Leaf Pages builds slowly, starting with the brief and fragile "Faces of the Damned" and gradually adding weight as the album progresses. "To Remember", the disc's second track, grafts an Elliot Smith-like piano line onto its wistful melody, punctuating its slow-moving progress with cymbal crashes. The whistle-enhanced "Papillon" is as delicate as the butterfly it describes, yet it gathers heft from hovering long-toned guitars that rise up out of the chorus.
"Hey, are those waves / crashing on our heads again?" Putnam sings in "Is That Blood?", and indeed, you could look at the earlier tracks as a wave building to a crest. They slowly, inexorably gain force through the album's first half, the whitecap starting to show just around "Like an Ant Floating in Milk". This mid-album cut is lit with keyboards, alternately bright and brooding, bubbling under the Smile-ish harmonized vocals. Then "Is That Blood?", an album highlight, transforms from fragile, Grandaddyish indie pop with its chorus, the barbed saw rhythm of guitar (or keyboard?) putting a hint of friction into its dreamy landscape. With "The Fish", the album comes to a gentle climax, its rough crash of guitar reinforcing the hallucinogenic chorus. The very Neil Young-like "Breathing Again" closes the disc, a nearly translucent warbled folk song, transformed into psych with trembling, reverbed guitars.
The songs on Fallen Leaf Pages are all played at roughly the same glacial pace and share a very mellow, thoughtful and regret-filled vibe. Some listeners will find them repetitive, even tedious. Still, if you're in the right mood, these songs are slow-moving like clouds on summer afternoons, changing shape as you look at them and feeding soft, serene daydreams.