“Thank you…from the bottom of my bloody folk heart,” David Merulla writes in the liner notes for Autumn in Halifax’s Kites with Broken Strings, and I’m struck with what an interesting description that would be for this band: bloody folk. Take your structured folk music, and dissect it, sometimes into its barest components and sometimes into delectable chunks of folk goodness, and you get the unique and endearing sound of Autumn in Halifax.
Rochester native Merulla is the heart of his bloody folk sound, assisted on the album with assorted friends, and on this release, he delivers one of the most intriguing albums I’ve heard in ages. There’s tracks here for those who love traditional song structures and those who eschew them, and sometimes both will be pleased in the same song. At the heart of these songs is a moody folk sensibility, but Merulla and friends get so creative in mixing these songs and adding in ebow, lap steel, Rhodes piano, and assorted noises, that the result is something truly unique.
The album opens with the quiet “A Quiet Long Enough,” which warps its guitars forward and backward, creating a kind of ambient soundscape. It’s merely a prelude, though, to the lengthy and brilliant “Farewell,” which gives perhaps the perfect feel for Autumn in Halifax’s sound. It’s flowing, eerily moody at times and yet striking in Merulla’s lyrics and lilting vocals. The drums are booming, the guitar repeating its lines in the backdrop, keyboards lilting and pretty by contrast, and what seems incohesive in theory comes together beautifully.
“In Slow Arcs” brings to mind Joan of Arc in structure as well as Merulla’s purposefully off-key singing style. “Water + Wire” is sweet and gentle, and Merulla’s singing style is endearing more than jarring, nicely complimenting the rich tones of this quiet yet poppy track. “Echo in the Lower Case” is a gentle instrumental, lilting and smooth and evocative. It leads nicely into the album’s centerpiece, the brilliantly powerful and instrumentally textured “Memphis.” The album is rounded out by the more folky “Aluminum Smile,” creative found songs to back up “Lemon Tigers,” more poppy “Pretty Noise,” the stark and stripped-bare “Stinger Glows Relief,” and the esoteric “Screen of Province” that provides a nice bookend to the opening instrumental.
Merulla spins tales in true folk style that take on an almost dreamy feel, his lyrics telling of “birds, avalanches, water, hearts, and silence,” as he notes in his bio. His instrumentation – at times quiet and moody, at times experimental in approach – is the perfect accompaniment to these tales and still works on its own in the instrumentals. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting lost in these songs, wondering where the time went, wondering where these strange and discomforting thoughts are coming from. Merulla’s music is meant to lull you disarmingly and strike you with its dichotomies. It’s enigmatic and unusual and startlingly effective. And I’ve yet to hear a release this experimental in approach work so well. This is truly a gorgeous album.