Folk music was always built on textures and harmonies. They bring to life the generally natural and laid-back style of the vocalist in the band. It is a formulaic approach that works so very well, and artists from Bon Iver to Fleet Foxes, to Family Cave to Laura Veirs make this texturized bombastically enticing indie folk their home.
The Peripherals, from San Diego, implement stylistically vibrant textures with masterful excitement. The group formed in 2010 as a duo, Omar Musisko and Andrew Thams. They recorded an album, took a break, and refined their sound. They then recruited Dylan Jones to form a Rush-like trifecta and released their sophomore wonder, Declarations.
The album brims and buzzes with intricate three-part harmonies, harps, mandolins, and a slew of percussive instruments that bring an outward vitality to the record. It may be its strongest suit, quite frankly. The drumming on this thing is pitch-perfect but also organic. Every sound from the backbeat sounds intentional but also extravagant, like the band is expanding their sound with near perfection. It is hard to do right without sounding over blow, and it is not something I can explain easily. In short, the band is just THAT good at what they do.
‘The Sweet Unknown’ gallops with this vivid drum pattern and bass. It is the folk equivalent to Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills.’ Other songs are just downright odd. ‘Spun’ is more akin to a children’s chant, with this easy swagger and sway that allows the song to bob along in this silly rhythmic pulsating. It is the perfect complement to an early Dr. Seuss story, and this is not in a bad way at all. ‘If So’ has this chilly fervor that is soothing and, well, adorable. The term may not be welcomed by some, and turn off others, but it works so well. The simplicity of the song’s basic sound while also be rounded out by such radiant textures and styles is what makes the Peripherals so effective at what they do. It is what makes them fit right alongside the current indie folk giants.
‘Psychic Alcoholic’ seems to dial things down a bit for what is basically a bizarre and bracing ballad. It echoes sentiments of stories that haunt us from the past. It is also the best showcase for how lyrics can impress a listener; bring a song to life, and build a tower with a song’s many constantly fluctuating pieces. Next to ‘Living Tonight,’ which is another pleasing story.
The extravagantly gorgeous ‘Cannonballman’ closes the album, and it does what so many artists don’t really do. An album ending should go one of two ways. It should be huge, explosive, sprawling and majestic. On the other hand, a closer should be quaint, small, and rather simple. Cannonballman is clearly a story about a circus adventurer, hearing demands, and being reflected upon by a brass marching band. It is also sensationally invigorating, a charming and effective closer that capstones the band’s image and energy in one 4 minute nugget of sugary sweetness.
The band seems to be pulling from a day of noir. There is a sprinkling of late early 40’s New York City. Innocence was still intact in the public conscious, and the environment still had a fighting chance. The air wasn’t entirely toxic, and men with big mustaches helped woman of all ages cross the street while lifting off their hat and bowing in respect. Declarations works because it channels a narrative frame with recollections of this sincere culture. The song’s texture illuminates it all under precise terms. The album does exactly what it sets out to do, and more people should hear it. Period.