-Leonardo da Vinci
'The Low Branches,' Christina Gleixner and Matt Klimas, are integral participants and stalwart supporters of the Richmond music scene. In tandem with their music, their design work has become representative of Richmond Indie Folk, highlighted by contributions to both The Listening Room and The Foundry. The same characteristics can be found in both their graphic work and their song craft: minimalist construction, deliberate design and a proclivity towards nature.
The Low Branches first official ep: "Sinking, Rising" is being released on Church Hill Records and debuts this month on January 21st. Recorded at The Richmond Ballet with Allen Bergendahl, of Viking Recording Co., the album captures the open spaces of its setting and the watery ghosts of the James River, running just south.
Prevalent on the record are hallmarks of 'The Low Branches' sound: Gleixner's elegant voice, decorous guitar; Klimas's bare boned percussion and baritone ukulele. An inspired addition to the group is Joshua Quarles, whose cello arrangements are meticulously tailored to each song. Adam Tsai from 'Nick Coward and The Last Battle" also contributes finely suited lap steel on the penultimate number: 'Inside the Breath.'
Throw me in the water
Throw me in the water
We’ll sink to the bottom together,
two stones who can’t move
This introductory song displays the group's acute intuition towards pacing, the use of space, and meticulous song structure. The lyrics bring to the front recurring motifs of water, the importance of action, and the association of self with the observed environment. Nature is addressed, personified and given voice.
We stood bare, ankles in mud
Our cheeks touched the yellow,
reflections mirrored on our skin
A cello swell leads to the chorus where the singer and her companion meditate upon the flora along the banks of the Rappahannock tributary-- a beautiful lyrical moment which makes way for my favorite verse:
We stretched out, hands in the air
Our fingers moved the shadows,
the branches spreading on our skin
As the subjects interact, Klimas's voice gently supports Gleixner's--again, the music in parallel with the lyrical content. The song ends with an ethereal vocal and the line:
We fell hushed
Unfold Your Hands Like a Map
This slow waltz begins and ends with a careful picking pattern and a wistful electric guitar line.
A darkness imbues the plaintive melody and intimate lyrics as the singer is compelled to follow the subject, finding an incongruity between reality and the machinations of the mind:
I wanted to take you away
unfold your hands like a map
I never intended to follow you, but
the path keeps leading me on
across your palm
Oh, you keep me calm in my thoughts, but
when I reach you, nothing comes on–
Nothing at all
You hold, you hold
the water in your hands
You pull, you pull
the wool between your teeth
The tempo of this song successfully brings the record back up from the preceding fathoms. Klimas's introduction of the glockenspiel adds lightness while the lyrics address nature as subject. 'Dipsacus Fullonum' is a plant comprised of lavender flowers that dry to a spiney cone used for teasing wool. 'Dipsacus' is Greek for 'I thirst,' as the leaves of the plant catch water for sustenance and protection. Moving beyond the literal into metaphor, the act of holding water in one's hands is a responsible, trustworthy and nurturing action. Pulling wool denotes the making felt --a beautiful handcraft using the wools' inherent nature to make clothing for human warmth and comfort.
Inside the Breath
Glockenspiel and the addition of Tsai's lap steel work together to further lighten the music into a contemplative ballad. An intimate meditation on relationships, the singer and her companion are now indivisible from nature, taking the role of water:
Take me and spread me all over
your hands. Like water I’ll sink
through the layers of your sand
The lyrical poetry of the record reaches its pinnacle during the lead-up to the soaring chorus:
And my body will stretch in the tide
as it moves, Inside the breath of your
voice as it soothes
'Rising' reprise of the intro-- a proper outro for the record. The low cello is now gone, and in its place Klimas's light piano lifts as Gleixner's lyrical action changes from sinking to rising:
Hold me in the water
Hold me in the water
We’ll rise to the surface
like bodies lifted up
from the dead.
The introduction and the conclusion of the album suggest the concept that the entirety of the work is to be considered a process. Of course anything experienced is a process of senses, but in this case there is a more profound connotation indicated by the title: rising and setting, ebb and flow, birth and death and rebirth--the ritual of water and ablution for spiritual restoration. "Rising' ends with a beautiful self harmony before concluding on the same chord on which the record began. A continuing cycle.
"Sinking, Rising" is aptly represented by its cover imagery-- river stones, polished over time by water. Like the ancient curative nature of river stone, the album itself nurtures as it wraps the listener in blankets of melody and poem--leading to a restoration of temper and calm.
'The Low Branches' bring to the Richmond Scene a subtle, deliberate beauty that's been missing since the departure of the likes of Spokane and Patrick Phelan. This record stands as an exquisite testament to the spirit and skill of their craft.
Live in beauty... see in beauty... go in beauty...
The CD release show for 'Sinking, Rising' will be held at The Firehouse Theatre on January 21st. For further details refer the Event Page
The Low Branches:
Church Hill Records:
Also coming soon from Church Hill Records is the debut record by Tyler Crowley of Louisiana Territory.
Come to the Listening Room on January 18th for its release!
'Sinking, Rising in the Strangest Places' by Shannon Cleary
'The Listening Room Vol. I,' review by Shannon Cleary