Seattle's Snowdrift have had their debut album issued on the highly collectible and even coveted Paradigms label in the U.K. Until now, the bands that have released material on the gorgeously packaged Paradigms imprint have usually been heavy, drone-based post-rock outfits and those that delve deeper into a bit more sinister territory, like Wraiths. Snowdrift are a true exception. They are a dreamy, dark trio with cellos, guitars, drums, and keyboards, all hovering around in eerily presented and beautifully structured ballads that come off as haunting, poetic folk songs from another time that have been stored away and hidden, and are being interpreted only now, through the speech and language of rock. There have been territorial comparisons to Low and some even to Mazzy Star, but this music is something other. Kat Terran's vocals are throaty; they have the ethereal beauty of Over the Rhine's Karin Bergquist but are bigger and more present, and they annunciate as well as swell and swoon. Add to this sparse slide guitar, a single shuffling snare, and ambient keyboard effects by Derek Terran that enhance the instruments rather than bury them, as on "Outlaw Engineers," something that -- rather than being high and lonesome in the roots tradition -- is rather out and lonesome, as if from another space, and out of time completely. "September" begins with ambient sounds, a quietly brushed drum, and an ominous yet utterly lovely cello; whispering electric piano sounds float in from the mist before the bandmembers slip in gear and enter fully. Even when they do, there's no hurry, no permanent place for them in the track. The drums simply shift and shimmer as Terran's voice, like some ever-present spirit, comes up from the ether, but it's that voice holding it all together. The instruments and sounds all gravitate toward and away from her in a circling fashion that lends the music weight even as it gains not momentum, but an eerie heaviness that is darkly seductive and full of subtle warnings that things might begin to fall apart -- but never do.
These songs are written and shaped according to a melodic sensibility that is not commonplace; the spontaneity is in the emotion in Terran's voice and in the listener's sheer surprise at the these sounds -- and that surprise never dissipates, no matter how often one slips the disc into the player. One is always left wondering, particularly near the end with the heartbreaking tenderness in "House of Cards," or in the literally ghostly sonic structure of "Aviary," just how songs like this can be written instead of merely crafted and recorded. In fact, they suggest that in a live setting, Snowdrift are heavier, the audience and the music coming together in a manner that creates a maelstrom to feed Terran's voice and give it an utterance that is spine-tingling. The set ends with "Track 11" (actually the last of eight songs), which begins with a vulnerable kind of gloominess that suggests a hurt so wide and deep it encompasses the entire world. But something else is at work here, too, the complex emotions expressed by cello, guitar, and the electric piano that keeps the drummer barely moving, as a heartbeat for Terran: "Not the way, not the strain that the storm arrives/But the way that the storm subsides here/Oh there's so much more...." And there is. This cut takes the cake as it deceptively appears to disintegrate and then builds itself into a fury as Terran wails and begins the incantation "Get me off this train/I'm getting off this train/Get me off this train" as feedback and spiky guitar signatures take over the landscape before it all just disappears altogether. This is a remarkable and powerful debut by a truly underground American band that is creating something new from many old things, and shaping them into a sound that is all its own.