Alison Sudol's third outing under the moniker A Fine Frenzy couldn’t be more different (thematically) from 2009's often pained and introverted Bomb in a Birdcage. While the natural world has always served as a backdrop for her hypnotic blend of folk, art rock, and indie pop, it's never been given the whole stage with which to strut and fret its hour, but the appropriately titled Pines changes all that, offering up 13 meditations on biology and topography that stem from the artist's concerns about the speed of life in the 21st century. Inspired by a sojourn to the redwoods and Washington's Cascade mountains, Pines, which is accompanied by a companion e-book and short animated film, follows the story of a tree that's been given the gift of free will. Such a fanciful idea would veer dangerously close to twee in lesser hands, but Sudol's expressive voice (both sonically and lyrically) and her tasteful and innovative arrangements help to steer the narrative into more abstract realms than one would assume upon simply reading the press release. Like her closest contemporaries Lisa Hannigan, Faun Fables, and to a lesser extent Joanna Newsom and Florence Welch, Sudol is a masterful architect of atmosphere, and songs like "Winds of Wander," with its breezy, Laurel Canyon-meets-Kurt Weill gait, the defiant and vaguely sinister "They Can't If You Don't Let Them," and the impossibly pretty and engaging folk-pop gem "Avalanches (Culla's Song)" all benefit from her ability to balance musicality with austerity, and like the rivers she draws much of her inspiration from, blissfully follow a course to the ocean of their own design.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger