Still, Tree by Leaf for me were always best when doing the least. With their gold-plated earnestness, they don't need a lot of dressing up to look their best. Thus, the naked fingerpicking of "M-set," where you can hear every bit of Garrett's delivery, like he's whispering in your ear, is the standout here.

"When the moon has eaten, all she can tonight," he breathes in layers, "scattering her crumbs of light across the sky/I will turn the bed down/I will breathe a sigh/And if we know our placement, then we know our time."

"Wonder Worker" opens similarly, a call out to Tree by Leaf's outstanding "Cold Norwegian Tile," but quickens its pace with a subtle percussion and quick-sung vocals from the Soucys in their best vocal pairing (which is saying something). The chorus here is a soaring "ahhh-ahhh," like a primal expression of spiritual ecstasy. I guess there could be "Christian music" this good, but I don't know where to hear it. And it would be a crime if Tree by Leaf were ever pigeonholed that way.

"I am able to be evil," Garrett assures us, "but he's weeding me out."

No, really, they can do evil. "Mega Meta Utopia" is downright vicious: "I know how to cut you open with the flat edge of a dime." The best thing about Tree by Leaf's understanding of faith is their acknowledgment that the real world is often a dirty and uncaring place. To aspire to a "mega meta utopia" is to lead people astray. The way they take "hallelujah" in this song and twist it, as if to mock those who throw it out so casually, might be the best thing on this album.

Amen & Amen is the anti-bubblegum. You need to be willing to invest yourself in it. The return, however, is significant.

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at  sam_pfeifle@yahoo.com.

AMEN & AMEN | Released by Tree by Leaf | treebyleaf.bandcamp.com

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