Review by Eugenia Vela.
People who know Scattered Trees know their story. Six friends, Chicago bound, who separated and came back together after facing tragedy. It’s common for death or loss or any kind of devastating event to result in art. Such was the case for Scattered Trees, whose latest LP, Sympathy, was built around truth and the comfort and discomforts that come from troubled times and the people you thought would be around forever.
Sometimes listeners are biased when learning music was meant for someone or inspired by something they can relate to. McCartney’s “Hey Jude” probably earned him some brownie points when we learned he wrote it for Julian, and I’ve yet to meet a person who isn’t touched every time Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” comes on. Songs resonate deeper truths when we feel the artists who created them are just like us—they suffer loss, their hearts get broken, and then they sit down and write a song. So to review Sympathy completely unbiased is difficult, mainly because the fact that they have openly built an entire collection on tragedy is the fastest way to win over listeners’ hearts.
But Sympathy is not that memorable an album. It tends to get repetitive in its cohesiveness and revolves around the same stories for nine whole tracks. As a whole, the collection’s weakness lies in its ability to fly by with very few striking musical qualities—most distinguished are the title track’s opening mandolin and the majestic starting build-up in “Bury the Floors.” Vocals aren’t particularly distinctive, and the melancholic harmonies that run throughout the album have been used and abused by indie bands clear across the world.
So Sympathy’s main strength is its writing. But fortunately, this strength doesn’t seem powerful in comparison to the weaknesses. Quite the opposite. The writing can afford to stand strong alone. “A Conversation About Death on New Year’s Eve,” which frontman Nate Eiesland has said is about an imaginary conversation with his father, beautifully represents the messages that come from Sympathy. The writing’s great thanks to the obvious vulnerable relationship the author has to the subject—“But you said ‘I’ll be there when you wake up from this dream/ when you turn your life into a story/ oh and I’ll tell every ghost, every one that I see/ I’m waiting here, I’m ready for you.”
“I Swear to God” succeeds in a perfect combo of music and lyrics—irony stands out in the contrast between the clear grief in the author’s words and the upbeat, joyful mix that accompanies them. Another song that masters this arrangement is “Four Days Straight,” which stands out as the “happiest” track, with the classic tale of heartbreak beating against a danceable build-up that will surely bring a smile to your face.
So leaving aside all the musical technicalities—yes, they all play their instruments adequately, good voice, and so on and so forth—Sympathy’s beauty comes from its potential to create an emotional attachment with its listeners. It won’t be talked about forever, it won’t be played at parties and it’s highly unlikely you’ll play it in your car on a good day. But it is beautiful music. Sympathy is very mood-specific, therapeutic, and for now, that will do.
Watch the video for “A Conversation About Death on New Year’s Eve” below and download here.