Trees Take Ease

VIDEO PREMIERE

Trees Take Ease - Birds Like Leaves

Gerard Marcus

The music of Brooklyn-based musician Trees Take Ease holds a special place in my heart. It perfectly captures the emotional space where my oldest memories reside, dancing in and out of fantasy. With its earnest sensibilities and lo-fi feel, his 2017 record ‘Magnetic North’ is easily one of my favorites from last year. He’s had two releases since then, but I’m happy to see him return to Magnetic North to create a beautiful video for its track “Birds Like Leaves.”

Directed by Kathleen Elizabeth Dalton and Stephen Becker (Trees Take Ease), the power in the “Birds Like Leaves” video is its ability to draw attention to its fringes. Scraps of paper trapped by the wind, hands without bodies, shadows dancing and connecting on the ground—the entire video hints at the presence of more while focusing on the less. Is there a grace in how the wind carries the paper? Do those shadows connect us more completely than we do in the flesh? The video, like the music of Trees Take Ease, asks us to pay attention to that middle ground between reality and fantasy, the etherial and the concrete. A world where contemplation on the big and small can hopefully lead to deeper knowledge.

REVIEW: Trees Take Ease - Stevia

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Will Shenton

With Stevia, Trees Take Ease (AKA Brooklyn artist Stephen Becker) has created a world of his own, replete with philosophical musings and surreal diversions. Describing the EP as "a land of mushy songs and rumpled dreams, frozen vegetables and slippery posters, vitamin d and gnarled yarn," Becker defines the impressionistic framework—or lack thereof—that gives his sound such a beguiling character.

Nostalgic and contemplative, each song on Stevia feels equal parts familiar and alien, mirroring an introspective dive into one's own psyche. The lyrics are delivered in sensory fragments, often giving abstract ideas very tactile characteristics. "Love is a concept fading and tough / Like a moon in waning," Becker sings over an upbeat drum kit on "Whole In One," continuing, "Ready or not / I'm a cookie crumbling / Soft / Like a mattress fumbling." It's beautifully vivid nonsense, reveling in absurdity while nonetheless seeming to get at some truth that defies categorization.

The songwriting itself is largely energetic and poppy, but Becker takes countless surprising detours. The hypnotic beat of "See Saw" devolves into an extended off-kilter guitar solo; "Every Inch" blends squeaky-clean synths with lackadaisical, lo-fi vocals; "Same Old" is a propulsive, hazy pop-rocker steeped in sunshine; and closer "Stephen" mirrors the opener in runtime and its dissolution into washed-out atmospherics. There's a throughline, to be sure, but these subtle changes in direction make for a riveting listen.

Never content to take things at face value, Trees Take Ease resists easy definitions. "Less is not more," Becker chants on "See Saw," pushing back against the platitude and carving a space for his work outside the mundane. While Stevia is relatively short, it's certainly not minimalist. Dense with both sounds and ideas, it declares an uncharacteristically straightforward thesis: maybe more is more.

REVIEW: Trees Take Ease - Something Waffle This Way Yums...

Laura Kerry

Stephen Becker calls the songs on Something Waffle This Way Yum... “miniatures.” As Trees Take Ease, Becker has put out a few EPs of experimental bedroom music in recent years that range from strange, dreamy abstraction to strange, dreamy stories. Something Waffle falls on the narrative end of the spectrum, painting little portraits of the artist’s life as intimate as the designation “miniature” suggests.

As a paintbrush for these miniatures, the one-man band mostly uses tools with which he can be precise: his voice and an acoustic guitar. Throughout the album, Becker covers a wide swath of musical territory with them. Sometimes, his guitar sounds classical, moving dexterously through trills and arpeggios until the baroque melodies collapse into off-kilter, dissonant moments of experimentation (“Water Flower,” “Ninety in the Shade”). At other times, the guitar sounds plainly folky, as in the pretty and warm picking pattern on “Daytime Blues.” Though Something Waffle is, for the most part, a duet between a voice and a guitar, it occasionally sounds like something much fuller. Song such as “Beanie Baby,” “Quietude,” and “Inside Joke” resemble other genres—art rock, post-punk—that have been stripped down to their skeletons. You can imagine what would fill in the generous spaces in the music.

While the compositions shift, Becker’s voice remains fairly consistent throughout the 12 tracks on the album. In addition to “miniatures,” the artist has found other apt words to describe his art—“shyguy,” “naptime,” and “heartsong”—all of which reflect in his singing. His voice is delicate and subdued, but not without expression. With the right mix of guitar supporting him (in “Open Arms” and “Daytime Blues,” for example), Becker’s muted and somber voice sounds like Elliott Smith’s.

That comparison functions beyond Trees Take Ease’s vocals. Self-deprecating and raw, the overarching sentiment on Something Waffle is a sad one. He sings: “Truth be told you probably would avoid me” (“Daytime Blues”); “Cool how the thing you love must turn around to haunt you” (“Blue”); and “Save me from pulling out my hair” (“Open Arms”). Much of the album has this confessional feel, as if capturing scrawled thoughts on paper in a letter or diary.

But as the album title establishes, Something Waffle This Way Yums… has a sense of humor, too. Some of the most delightful moments on the album come in the form of small stories that are funny for their ordinariness. “Beanie Baby,” for example, is an ode to a hat (“My same old crap is easier to bear when I’m underneath my off-grey beanie”). “Favorite Song,” we learn at the end, portrays the mundane dialogue of an okay first date (“What’s your favorite song? / Hopefully I like it / Also your last name? / It’s getting kinda warm /But not enough to bike out / To my Planet Fitness). It’s the miniature portraits like these that make Trees Take Ease’s work equal measures strange and charming. Something Waffle is a particular album that won’t suit every moment, but will be magical in the times that it does.