Taken by Trees: Other Worlds
I’ve never been to Hawaii, but a year ago I did see Alexander Payne’s fantastic, Oscar-winning drama The Descendants. Bringing me the closest I’ve ever been to the Aloha State, Payne presented the island’s oft-ignored layer of economic depression and anxiety that stands in stark contrast to the picturesque beaches and surf. A year has passed, and I still haven’t been to Hawaii. But Victoria Bergsman, the singular brain behind Taken By Trees, has been to the fiftieth state recently, and her new album again captures that superficial beauty and hidden layer of melancholy that characterizes the islands. This isn’t the first time Bergsman has styled her album around the character of a certain place. Her 2009 album, East of Eden, was recorded in Pakistan and featured backing vocals from a Pakistani Sufi musician (as well as backing vocals from Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox of Animal Collective, who is not a Pakistani Sufi musician).
Other Worlds is an album of textures. No songs really stand out, but the album as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts due to its ability to avoid the cliches of surfer music and establish a consistent tone. “Highest High,” the album’s second song, is the album’s first of many tonal contradictions. The instrumentals are hypnotic and calming, but Bergsman’s voice is forlorn and the backing vocals monotonous. And that’s why it works. This balancing act of tones continues for the duration of the album. On “Pacific Blue,” it’s the intersection of light-hearted percussive elements and Bergsman’s airy, detached vocal performance that make it simultaneously full of joy and unease. And while the album does “take” you to the shores of Hawaii, this isn’t the result of Hawaiian musical cliches, but rather the painstaking construction of an ambiance befitting the islands. Basically, Bergsman knows when to put the ukelele down. Taken by Trees also avoids the overdone style of bands like Best Coast that hit you over the head with their beachy vibes and end up sounding fairly empty.
Other Worlds can meander a bit. Bergsman dwells a bit too much on certain styles, and it can be hard to differentiate among songs that sound very similar. Yet, when the album is taken as a whole, it can be appreciated as an impressive exercise in tonality. Other Worlds exposes Victoria Bergsman as a musician who is inspired by the world around her, and the complexity of her music emphasizes her ability to perceive the complexities of special places and peoples. Bergsman’s inspiration and ability to transport the listener are the marks of a true musician. I can’t wait to hear about her next vacation.
MP3: Taken By Trees “Dreams”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl