Thanksgiving – The Ghost and the Eyes (with) Trees in the Ground Outside the Window

Thanksgiving
The Ghost and the Eyes (with) Trees in the Ground Outside the Window

I guess I just don’t get it. Anyone whose read more than two of my reviews might sense that I am a complete melody whore who will assent to having that all-important element subsumed only when the ensuing music either makes me think hard, rocks heartily, or sets an unshakeable mood. When instead I’m presented with painful wobbly-voiced indie-folk consisting of pieces referred to either as song “continents” and “islands” or as “two separate concept EPs,” released in a limited edition featuring a hand-sewn booklet as part of a so called “Pregnancy Series,” I can’t help thinking: oh hell, is this supposed to be art?

Is that why I’m having a hard time buying Adrian Orange, the young Portland songwriter behind Thanksgiving, as anything other than a likeable wordsmith with an unfulfilling penchant for ear-unfriendly folky ruminations in the neighborhood of Smog, Neutral Milk Hotel, or the superior work of sometime labelmates and purveyors of provocative Americana the Dirty Projectors? That’s a long question, I know, but if someone could help me out I’d appreciate it.

Produced by the (very) like-minded Phil Elverum of Microphones and Mt. Eerie fame, The Ghost and the Eyes (with) Trees in the Ground Outside the Window shares Elverum’s desire to create something with a touch of both the ancient and the avant-garde. The stark, immediate production maintains the ambience of a small, cozy room, with creaking furniture and unforgivingly mic-ed vocals. It sounds best when Orange’s gothic musings are suddenly beset by strange uglinesses like the explosively distorted chords that crop up halfway into “Trees in the Ground Outside” or the unsettled swell of background vocals that surface intermittently in “There’s No Invisible Halloween Costume that isn’t There.” It’s also good when Orange has some haunting theme to try and keep afloat, as he does on the brief “Ooo My Love” or the recurring motif of darkly thrummed nylon-stringed guitars and haphazard hand-clapping that turns up in both “The Ghost and the Eyes” and “Now I’m Dude.” But seriously, these lyrics are too indistinct to substantiate the sketchy, nebulous material, and Orange’s faltering voice doesn’t help matters either.

Ultimately, Thanksgiving asks me to accept more than I am willing. It wants me to agree that The Ghost and the Eyes (with) Trees in the Ground Outside the Window is a grand statement because it says so, against all obvious evidence. It isn’t. What it is is an interesting taste of a challenging aesthetic, one that is being better developed elsewhere.