Driftwood Bones – s/t EP

Driftwood Bones - s/t EP

Driftwood Bones – s/t EP

For about a year before Driftwood Bones released their self-titled debut, they steadily built a buzz in the Midwestern music scene, touring Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa to increasingly enthusiastic audiences. Exuberant, genre-bending live performances and an increasingly prolific catalog of songs stimulated anticipation for a studio work. This promised eponymous EP arrived in the Fall of 2012, and I was eager to see what the quintet could offer. When I heard the chimey keyboard riff that opens “Can’t Go Home,” the first track, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

The band’s live shows exemplified musical complexity and experimentation. Folk-rock ditties transformed into jazz breakdowns, anthemic singalong choruses, and ten minute solos. Contrastingly, “Can’t Go Home” seemed conventional and aimed at commercial success (which it achieved, garnering radio play and thousands of streams on Spotify and Soundcloud). I was hearing yet another Mumford and Sons-esque pop-folk song where I expected something refreshing and innovative.

As the song continued, though, it moved into more interesting territory, with frontman Will Krageschmidt wailing “I can’t go home/I’m never going home” over a cheerful chorus. Complemented by offbeat piano riffs and wistful ukulele, Krageschmidt’s lyrics describe small-town Minnesota ennui with a sense of desperation. Like “Can’t Go Home,” Driftwood Bones is a flawed yet exciting project that reveals the band’s skill in crafting material that, despite limitation, is evocative and soulful.

At the time of the EP’s release, Driftwood Bones was a group of five college students from Winona, Minnesota (they have since changed bassists and added a lead guitarist). Krageschmidt covers guitar and vocals. Dante Degrazia adds tasteful keyboard, backed by Elly Williams’ ukelele and secondary vocals. Jacob Allen provides percussion; Holden Bothun plays bass and trumpet. Krageschmidt writes most songs, but the album’s highlights are those instances in which all the pieces mesh. At these moments, the band’s instinct for pushing and pulling the listener’s ear packs a powerful punch.

In “Quick One,” Krageschmidt’s ode to the bonds between parents and children, lyrical and musical buildups rise and fall with growing urgency. Beginning with guitar and vocals, the song expands as each instrument joins the mix, and climbs – briefly stalled by striking vocal breaks – to triumphant piano and guitar solos at the song’s peak. More breath-catching moments arise throughout “Harper,” the EP’s 7-minute centerpiece. While Krageschmidt sings of young love, Williams, her voice clearer than at any other point in the album, cries “I know that we’ll be fine/I just wish I could feel fine.” Each hook is a gasp-worthy moment in itself. Following two downbeat chords, the third downbeat is an unexpected rest that precedes an explosive musical re-entry. It happens without warning, so that we briefly feel the rug has been taken out from under our feet before we are restored to safety.

The effect of these musical details is devastating and beautiful. In “Harper,” they wound the heart even as they lift it higher before the song’s conclusion gives us closure. This seems to be the band’s goal – to take the confounding and contradicting moments that fill our lives and work them into one cohesive entity. Fittingly, the EP closes with Krageschmidt questioning God, fate, and luck in the two-part “Prayer of the Mourner.” Especially during “Part Two”, the young band sounds veteran, refusing to rush the slow, syncopated chord progression that ends the album with profundity: “Tell me does God know/that I found his lover dying.”

During the album’s heights, the band’s sense of musical time and place convey its core strengths: vibrant instrumentation and heart wrenching lyrics. Despite these veteran moments, though, Driftwood Bones is often undermined by inexperience. The most blatant examples are production related. The tinny bedroom songs are surprisingly well-mixed, thanks to the skill of engineer Nate Davis. But no amount of proficiency can overcome the obstacle of recording using a basement and laptop in place of a studio and soundboard. Throughout the EP, some instruments – piano, chimes – sound isolated and unpleasantly piercing, distracting from the overall sound. At other instances, the bass, guitar, ukelele, and harmonies are lost in the atmospheric background that, while part of the band’s stylistic identity, is not full enough to satisfy the listener’s ear. These rookie mistakes make for a paradoxical listening experience. The songs themselves sound fine-tuned and perfectionist. Unfortunately, the slightly lacking production means that the album simply isn’t as good as it could be. It’s impossible to ignore the nagging feeling that Driftwood Bones is missing something that would make it a truly excellent work.

Ultimately, Driftwood Bones is both a flawed first release, and a triumph. It displays enormous potential at every turn – but it does so without completely fulfilling it. Sensing the apparent talent that has yet to be realized can be hugely frustrating as a listener. Luckily, the best moments of Driftwood Bones are so exhilarating and captivating that we relish the flashes of actualized potential we receive. Now a six-piece, Driftwood Bones have announced a late 2015 release date for their sophomore album. With a stellar debut under their belt, this band can only climb upward.