REVIEW: Land Lines - The Natural World

Will Shenton

Minimalism might be the most powerful technique in all of music. I don't necessarily mean the cyclical, hypnotic contemporary classical of Philip Glass and David Lang (though that's pretty great in its own way), but more the general philosophy of using subtle, spare instrumentation and vocals. Perhaps "restraint" is a better word.

Regardless of what term you want to use, Colorado-based trio Land Lines are masters of it. On their sophomore LP, The Natural World, every beat, lyric, and bowed string is presented against such a minimal background that you can't help but give it your full attention. Every move is profoundly intentional, and demands appreciation.

The problem with minimalism is that it can often feel unfinished or emotionally flat. Not so with these guys. While their songs are generally sparse, they certainly don't shy away from some explosive choruses. "Etiquette," for example, simmers its way from little more than pizzicato cello and percussion to a passionate, arresting yell from vocalist Martina Grbac. It's dramatic and powerful in a way that you wouldn't normally expect from this type of reserved music.

The album vacillates between simple, unadorned tracks like "Logic," "Matter," and "Will + Worry" and driving, up-tempo pieces like "Limb From Limb" (my personal favorite) and "Plans." There are even a few, like the opener "Rivers + Streams," that take a few pages from more traditional chamber pop. They're able to keep things moving, vary their sound, and somehow never lose that tonal thread that ties everything together.

I could probably wax lyrical about The Natural World for a thousand more words, but I think the music speaks for itself. I'm amazed that Land Lines haven't gotten more attention, and this latest release on Misra seems poised to be their national breakout—I know it's on my shortlist for the best of 2015. This is clearly a group that's at the top of their game.