The local quartet Dear Vincent writes tightly constructed folk-rock songs that spin out with the precision and delicacy of a music box's lullaby, albeit with darker overtones. On the band's debut EP, So Long Winter, the guitar takes a back seat to a host of strings, horns and keyboards. "Epitaph" kicks off the disc with a little touch of Lifted-era Bright Eyes, with Bryan Steel's slightly bedraggled vocals giving way to light chamber-pop finery; trumpets, violin and glockenspiel flesh out the slow-burning song. The combination of well-orchestrated folk instruments (accordion, banjo) and low-key indie rock arrangements calls to mind Sea Wolf and the early work of the Decemberists, especially on the waltz-tempo "The Sailor's Song."
Dear Vincent shows a little more muscle toward the second half of this six-song EP. Featuring a trebly electric piano and sharp swipes of electric guitar, "Scarecrow" is Dear Vincent's best amalgamation of fine-tuned orch-pop and rock & roll verve. Keyboardist Ariadne Holladay joins Steel on the chorus, giving his sometimes-dour vocals a little lift. (The soaring choir on the track accomplishes this feat as well.) The sinister "Crooked Jack" lopes along on cabaret piano chords, using both harpsichord tones and a low brass section to the up the creepiness factor.
There's not a bum note on So Long Winter, and while that speaks to the band's chops and quest for perfection, it also leaves the EP feeling a bit too manicured and airless. Exercises in pop formalism often end up this way — just ask Grizzly Bear. There's no shortage of talent or vision on the record, but here's hoping that future Dear Vincent records sound more like a band at play than an arranger at work.
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