Gold Leaves The Ornament

[Hardly Art; 2011]

Styles: 60s, Americana, chamber pop, folk, indie, singer-songwriter
Others: Arthur & Yu, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Nick Drake, Thao & Mirah, The Moondoggies

Imagine, if you will, The Associates’ immortal “Party Fears Two” translated into the guitar-folk idiom. It may be a personal auditory idiosyncrasy, but this was the association (pun intended) that came to me on hearing “The Ornament,” the eponymous single from Gold Leaves’ new album. There is a certain quality of lachrymose hysteria, of just-sublimated sexuality, of the irresistible crest and crashing of a wave, which inheres in both pieces. I was curious (voracious, even) as to whether this quality would play itself out in the rest of the album. Although the rest of Gold Leaves (a.k.a. Grant Olsen of Arthur & Yu)’s debut is closer to straight-up, thoughtful indie guitar folk (leavened with touches of 60s chamber pop), this isn’t to imply that I was disappointed. Stylistically, it’s not a huge departure from Arthur & Yu, but there’s a sense here of music more deeply personal, a solemnity without a trace of pomposity.

This is clearly a cerebral piece, quoting lyrical material from Steinbeck, among other eclectic borrowings. The publicity material also namedrops Robert Frost (“nothing gold can stay”), and there is certainly something appropriate in these references to the maestros of the American/a landscape — a sense of spaciousness, of the natural and built terrain as mournful and full of hardship, yet containing undeniable loveliness and possibilities of moments of transcendence. The pace can drag a little at times, however, and while, when Olsen explores the higher end of his range, the results are gorgeous, a little more vocal (and tempo) variety might have gone some way to salve this aspect. Having said that, The Ornament is a record that (gently) demands attention to the lyrics, not to mention lyrical attention.

There is a crisp richness to the sound, best appreciated on a decent system, which is redolent of the orchestral pop of the 60s, bringing out also the best of Gold Leaves’ folk influences (as The Velvet Underground taught us so well, an aptly placed tambourine shake is a wondrous thing). Certain moments — particularly the stately opener, “The Silver Lining” — smack of Jeff Buckley before we all overlistened to Grace on repeat in bohemian cafes and/or stopped paying attention to the ghoulish search through the vaults for any shred of remaining material. Elsewhere, we’re reminded of mid-period Leonard Cohen — “The Companion” has a ring somewhere between “Winter Lady” and the underappreciated masterpiece, “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” The thematics of the latter, indeed, might equally be applied to The Ornament: a battered melancholy, a traversing of the familiar but haunting landscapes of Americana, a low-key yet Biblical undercurrent, an intimate relationship with the natural world in its dirt as well as its beauty. Not only possibilities of transcendence, then, but a Transcendentalist sensibility.

Links: Gold Leaves - Hardly Art

Most Read