Branches, the first full-length album by Portland, OR's Antlerand (formerly known as Invisible), is certainly a musically ambitious project. Besides the three main bandmembers, each of whom plays an assortment of instruments, they also add a variety of guest artists -- including a violinist, a trumpet player, and a female singer -- to their blend of indie pop/rock. Antlerand approach their songs almost with the mindset of a jam band, or even a jazz combo, using introductions that lead into nearly unrelated verses and choruses and back into introductions, adding or taking away layers the entire time, meandering about with a kind of improvisational structure. The problem is, it almost becomes too much. They have neither the intensity of a jam band nor the musicianship of a jazz combo to completely pull it off, and Branches tends to drag on because of it. Their chord changes, the movement from the A section to the B to the A, even the endings -- all become predictable. Every song has so many layers and tries to do so many things that it can border on ridiculous. There's so much going on that it makes the music almost seem forced. Luckily, the one thing that pulls the album together and keeps it from spiraling into some uncharted indie-improv territory is the work of drummer Delaney Kelly. Even when the rest of the band gets stuck in a simple riff, Kelly pushes them forward, challenging them to do more, to think bigger (play sixteenth notes for God's sake!), but to stay controlled and composed at the same time. It's impressive work, and because of him, Antlerand are occasionally able to find that point where their musical desires mesh with feasibility, and sound good. "Maybe We're Still Running" brings marimbas, synths, and a quick jungle beat, among many other things, into one coherent, interesting song, and in "Make Nothing Happen," which finds singer Chris Larson -- who sounds vaguely like Stephen Malkmus -- playing the introspective indie rocker ("Oh Atlantic, won't you carry me?/Just wash me to your shore, with your westerlies"), everything comes together really well. Antlerand have a lot of good ideas, but their execution is just a little off. If they worry less about doing so much while still keeping their groove and style, their next record might just make it where Branches couldn't.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown