Peasant – On The Ground

Peasant - On The Ground

Peasant - On The Ground

Humility is a rare thing in music. Most artists are just as concerned with their image and success as they are with their art. But not Peasant. This one man band simply wants to write about everyday struggles using the most basic tools (mainly his vocals and an acoustic guitar). His sophomore LP, On The Ground, is like a short book of poetry; it’s not always the most interesting or penetrable material, but it consistently sounds nice.

Peasant is Damien DeRose from Doylestown, PA. His first release was 2005’s Fear Not, Distant Love. Damien has been compared to the folk/pop songwriters of the sixties, namely Simon and Garfunkel. While his work isn’t nearly as good as theirs (but who really is?), there is a similarity in their need and ability to express unfiltered emotion and discuss the problems of society. Even when the songs are lacking any memorable hooks or impressive music, you have to admire Derose for his modest ambition.

With a few exceptions, the entire album follows a pattern. We have some slide guitar, acoustic guitar, a organ and one of the most angelic voices I’ve ever heard. He sings like a prepubescent Ben Gibbard or Wayne Coyne, and it’s easily Derose’s standout attribute. The melodies are very simple but they fit perfectly with the music. All the elements lead to a beautiful sound that unfortunately may not stay with you long, but damn if it doesn’t bring optimism while it’s playing. Derose’s music, like the hippie movement it would’ve fit in with, demands acknowledgment of social injustices and the beauty of love without being antagonistic or violent. It’s all very peaceful.

The opener, “The Wind,” is a standout because it is a great combination of the elements. You can hear the frailty of an unprofessional, slightly nervous performer who believes in what he sings but is unsure if anyone else does. “We’re Good” fades in with the production values of Pet Sounds, and it is destined for the radio, a television promo or movie trailer. It also features wonderfully simple harmonies, making it one of the album’s most fully realized pieces. “Raise Today” is a more sparse and intimate moment, and Derose uses interesting interval moments in his melody to make it pierce the heart a bit. “Exposure” has the finger picking of a Beatles tune, and “Missing All You Are” opening organ brings an ominous foreshadowing. “Birds” uses a harpsichord and various other electronic instruments to produce the album’s most grandiose track. While all of On The Ground is good, these are the most intriguing moments and aspects.

On the other hand, most of the album sounds too much alike, and Derose’s songwriting needs to evolve. It needs to be more interesting, memorable and intricate. As I said earlier, the album always sounds wonderful in terms of timbres, but the material is lacking sometimes. If he can grow as a songwriter, he’s art will truly be remarkable. It is a bit frustrating to have a record that sounds so good and warm without equally affective melodies.

As it stands, On The Ground isn’t an album to respect for its quality as much as for DeRose’s ambition and unusually unpretentious approach. He uses limited instruments to successful subtle use, and his voice is something to notice, but his efforts aren’t all they could be. Basically, he deserves the audience he has and whatever successes it brings, but he is not ready for the next step. Damien DeRose needs to add more diversity, maturity and complexity first.