BY JENNIFER KELLY
“Metal Tree,” a bittersweet little tune about the struggle for connection in outer space, is the only song on this album that is actually in a minor key. It is an odd song, fanciful in concept, but matter of fact in execution. It is gently rueful without wallowing in self-pity. Like much of Searching Through That Minor Key it touches on loneliness, mortality, missed romantic opportunity and regret, but in a glancing way, the sadness sheathed in soft buoyant harmonies and rhythmic picking. Nicholas Altobelli may not be the world’s happiest guy, but he’s not going to drag you down.
Like his last couple of recordings, this one was produced by Salim Nourallah and draws assistance from Texas indie pop mainstays like John Dulfilho from the Deathray Davies and Joe Reyes of Swindles and Buttercup. Mostly recorded in 2013, the album was scrapped for a time as Altobelli dealt with the fall-out from a deteriorating marriage. He recorded an EP called Mesocyclone and released it in 2014, while these tunes languished. It feels like a dark, personal album, though veiled with metaphor.
And yet, how light and buoyant these songs can be, floating light and unconcerned over arrangements in acoustic guitar, piano, drums, bass and sometimes glockenspiel. How calmly they consider extremity, lost love in “Dogwood,” a long-forgotten crush in “Sarah,” the death of an elderly relative in “Painted Aeroplanes.” How easily they slip a bit of musical uplift and comfort into their melodic lines. Listening to Minor Key is like chatting with an old friend about whatever’s gone wrong. Quietly, gradually, it makes you feel better.
Maybe my favorite song on this unassumingly pretty album is “Alabaster,” a song sung from beyond the grave by a lover who wants his girl to be happy. It’s touchingly arranged with swoops of cello and churchly piano, sad on its surface, but radiating kindness. The narrator is dead, but he loves his wife enough to want her to continue. “Toss it [the ring] in the sea and make room for a gold heart,” he urges. These gentle songs celebrate the way that sadness can be beautiful as it gives way to hope and comfort.
DOWNLOAD: “Metal Tree” “Alabaster”