Slow Dakota's sophomore release, Rumspringa, begins on a characteristically aspirational note: "When I'm free / When I leave the city / When I'm free / Then I'll wake up early / I'll tend the rocky fields on the hill / I'll serve the basil in my windowsill." The lyrics are familiar to anyone who's ever dreamt of escape to a more idyllic life, and the way we tend to insist upon plans when we're least certain that we'll actually follow through.
It's a sentiment that fits with the EP's title—a reference to the Amish rite of passage in which adolescents are allowed to explore the outside world—as well as its sound. Mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi (known for his work on countless classic records, from Lennon to Bowie to Talking Heads), Rumspringa is a decidedly more polished album than last year's The Ascension of Slow Dakota. The songwriting is approachable, pop-sensible, and thoroughly fun to listen to, but thankfully manages this evolution without losing any of artist P.J. Sauerteig's distinctively raw delivery, nor the sense of humanizing self-doubt that permeates his work.
Each track on the EP is named for a different whimsical character, with most (if not all—I'm no master of Midwestern geography) referencing a city or state. Titles like "Abram Indiana," "Elijah Yoder," "Cherry Mary Michigan," and "Jebediah Iowa" all drive home that this work is as much about place as it is about personal experience. The names are hybrids of biblical Americana, seemingly entwining Sauerteig's own explorations of religious faith with broader questions of identity and the ever-changing definition of "home" (he even split the recording between his home state of Indiana and his adoptive New York). If we leave and decide to return, what are we coming back to?
Rumspringa is a fitting title for Slow Dakota's relatively short diversion into explicitly pop songwriting; like its namesake, it seems to represent both indulgence and experimentation, but also a subtle, almost reflexive quality of clinging to the familiar. Whether Sauerteig will return to his more avant-garde roots or continue down this infectious rabbit hole remains to be seen. Either way, it's bound to be compelling.