Maybe it's fitting, considering the supernatural nature of much of their lyrics, that Tree by Leaf's newest album seems to have dropped from the heavens. With no fair warning, the band that put out two of the best albums of the mid-2000s have this week posted their first in five years, Amen & Amen, to Bandcamp, a full-length that can be had for a measly $5. Unfortunately, it's also their swan song.
Consider that bad news, but also the deal of the week. Everything that has captivated many of us — Garrett Soucy's literary and haunting lyrics, Siiri Soucy's powerful harmonies and lead vocals, their simmering way of recording songs — is still in place, now a decade in, and the new 10-track album sounds like a band that have never missed a beat, even if they've been largely absent from the public eye lately, and have now disbanded.
It makes their opening track, "Once I've Seen Paris," seem ironic, actually. The band seem to enjoy playing up their Downeast, out-of-the-way backstory. Belfast is just a little backwater, right? Garrett's twangy lilt was built to pronounce "Paris" like "Pair-eee." But how did this band go back to the farm once they saw a little bit of the bright lights of those who fell in love with their music?
Perhaps it's because they really do serve a higher power. Christian imagery has always been infused in their lyrics — a questioning and probing tone, mostly — but they've also recorded an album of devotionals and this new album is probably their most overt effort that's targeted for general release.
"Yours is the kingdom," they sing on this opening track, "yours is the power/Yours is the only glory." But the way they capture low-end acoustic guitar, resonant and guttural, and the effect on the vocals, like they're singing by themselves in an empty Superdome, is just so perfectly matched to the subject matter that you never feel you're being preached to.
On the contrary, the album drives with the force of true believers who simply can't help themselves, a forward motion with inertia that's undeniable even on the slowest of tracks. This is at least partly the work of Eric Sanders, whose percussion tends to be heavy on a brushed snare that lends songs the sound of a rippling static energy. The counterpoint is the organ work of Cliff Young, which both grounds that energy and recalls the pipe organs of country churches all over New England.
On "Counting Coup," that organ gets downright jaunty, with poppy Siiri fronting vocals, like one of those gal-fronted songs on a Belle and Sebastian record: "It's the same little clock/That will one day stop/When love comes along/And takes me home/You can't run fast enough/To beat me son." The closing "Good Shepard" (yes, spelled that way) isn't quite as vampy, but it's close. And both tunes feature a second harmony track from Siiri late in the song that is piercing in its directness (or maybe that piercing quality comes from a bad mix job — it's kind of hard to tell).