Stamen and Pistils – Towns

This Washington, D.C. based group brings us an interesting and quirky sound with their sophomore release and follow-up to their experimental debut End of the Sweet Parade. With a more inward approach, the band attempts to strip down their sound and refine it somewhat with their latest effort. While it may be more stripped down and yet polished at the same time, the quirkiness remains in these folk tunes and Raul Zahir De Leon’s vocals shine throughout.

Towns opens with “Second Hand Valise”, featuring acoustic guitar and organic vocals. Slowly some electronic strings and light drum sweeping enters along with a few simple piano keys. While the song is simple, the few electronic touches help provide unique details along with the atypical vocal style. This was immediately my favorite track on the album.

“Quiet Country” is male/female folk-pop duet that features guest vocalist Mikal Evans. The deeper male vocals of Raul Zahir De Leon blended with Evans’ whiny alto are an interesting mix. While it is not the typical blend, the two tones provide an sound that I find enjoyable. De Leon also shows off his vocal range while usually singing in more of a lighter, whiny fashion than this bassy one.

Quirky high-speed talking being played back in reverse opens “A Death in Ronkonkoma”, a bluesy song with a dark side. The piano layered under the guitar strumming could give anyone chills. Meanwhile “An Elegy For Thee” feels like a simple, stripped down folk tune with good guitar work but includes a hint of electronic background noise washings that keep it from being too traditional.

“Hands Washing Water” is another of my favorites with De Leon once again showing off his deeper vocal range and it feels influenced by Velvet Undergrounds’s “Venus in Furs”. The lyrics here are not varied, in fact it really just consists of “My hands wash the water clean”, but instead the focus here is on the darker mood the dirgy music provides.

What I enjoy most about Towns is that Stamen and Pistils don’t pack every inch of its music with too many details and unnecessary embellishments. Instead, they keep it simple and know just how to set the mood using only the necessary instrumentation. Whether it’s simply a guitar and some electronic noise for texture or piano and drums, the duo keep it simple and don’t over do it. This is a balance that few bands know how to achieve and Stamen and Pistils do it well.