St. Even – Spirit Animal

January 01, 1970



Going into my first experience of Steve Hefter, it doesn’t
hurt that I’ve been in mourning and/or depressed for some time, ergo unusually
inclined to sit in the dark with sounds I might otherwise be tempted to dismiss
as terminally shoe-gaze. Also, my interest is piqued by the name of the last
track (“This is Not a Song”) and a statement inside the CD cover that misspells
the word “accretions” and ends with the idea of food variations (“always the
same but always some variation like cherries or Indian nuts or barbecued roast
loin of pork”) as a metaphor for a devolving trajectory. “Indian nuts?”


Before we get out the party hats and streamers, a run-on
sentence of a statement don’t necessarily a worthy album make. Nor, however
much I may be amused by it, does a promo shot of St. Even locus Steve Hefter
with acupuncture needles in his face. If Hefter’s name sounds familiar, he’s
been concocting sounds since the late ‘90s, when he was in Baltimore. He’s collaborated with Jason Dove
and with members of Frenemies, Wye Oak, and Challenge Club. Now Hefter’s in Portland, Oregon,
which seems appropriate for his born-for-college town-coffeehouses musings.


Hefter’s talent for collaboration renders the user-friendly
quality of his introspection less than surprising. His sonic paintings are
quietly captivating. On “Long Distance Calls,” a cello heaves restrained
breaths as Ezra Rose plants vocal raindrops around Hefter’s voice, which sounds
like a slightly mellower Leonard Cohen. “Whatever it is You Well Up with” is a
masterpiece of perfectly appointed brush strokes and details that are given
arcane depth by trombone warbles. Hefter’s intuitive confidence, and palpable
joy in the creative process, lead to beautifully embellished ruminations. There
are evocative pauses, starts and stops, and little owl-like hoots (“Krissi”).
“This is Not a Song” prompts a delighted chuckle; then tears in my eyes.


Spirit Animal is a
dose of elegant tranquilization for people who, despite their pains and
travails, are grateful for a hand up when it comes to staying fully alive. It
probably goes without saying that fans of Carissa’s Wierd, Mark Berube,
Innocence Mission, and Leonard Cohen should factor any price for Hefter
allegiance into their budgets. I hope everyone won’t have to be in a depression
to get past “Marigolds,” which, for me, brings Brad Roberts/Crash Test Dummies
to mind. This is “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” taken to a whole other level.


DOWNLOAD:  “Blinding Love,” “Whatever it is You Well Up
With,” “Cocksure,” “Long Distance Calls,” “This is not a Song” MARY LEARY

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