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Thanksgiving - The Ghost and the Eyes with Trees in the Ground Outside the Window

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Artist: Thanksgiving

Album: The Ghost and the Eyes with Trees in the Ground Outside the Window

Label: States Rights

Review date: Mar. 29, 2005


Thanksgiving is pure Portland: overcast acoustic strumming, warped wooden percussion, uncertain northwestern singing, and rain rain rain. Adrian Orange, the young man giving out this fractured thanks, is an easy heir to The Microphones' wondrous, lonely throne, so it comes as no surprise to learn that main-Microphone/Mount Eerie-mastermind Phil Elverum both engineered these recordings and has collaborated frequently with Orange in the past. The two share an obvious (i.e. audible) affinity for moods of wistful intimacy, screen-porch atmospherics and gentle instrumental experimentation. The Ghost and the Eyes with Trees in the Ground Outside the Window is the latest installment in The Pregnancy Series, a barely-defined but smartly-executed pet project of Portland-based labels States Rights and Slender Means Society. Each specially-commissioned EP sees the artist conceiving and birthing a "very specific idea," although exactly what this is can be terribly vague. The Blow's Poor Aim: Love Songs was the first in this collection of "baby concept records," and now there is Thanksgiving. Technically, his release breaks the series' guidelines because it is comprised of two separate EPs The Ghost and the Eyes and Trees in the Ground Outside the Window. Apparently Orange could not be contained in the regulation format. It just has too much to say.

From the first urgent chords it's apparent why. "The ghost and the eyes all of a sudden / and at the window a sunset / and even though it was lonesome / it kind of felt sort of like home," he sings-speaks, backed by off-kilter hand claps, melancholy ooh-ooh-ing, and somber, sharply strummed acoustic guitars. Most post-K acoustic explorers meander more than truly move, but Orange even in his quietest moments is distinctly purposeful, almost organized in a frail way. The title track is like Thanksgiving's thesis, surveying the grey emotional terrain ahead, then unfolding, expanding, and dissipating into the damp air. Elverum's production wavers between spare, living room spaciousness and crouched-in-the-closet intimacy, and both are necessary to properly trace Orange's magically distracted ballads; occasionally a submerged, crystalline electric guitar line undermines a chorus, or a dusty horn blares down from the attic, or field recordings of rain bleed through a cracked window (precipitation being a constant in the Oregonian psyche). Though deeply pensive and arranged with care, these songs are lived-in, errant, and quietly littered with the presence of others as if to remind us that the best Thanksgiving is not one spent in solitude.

The Trees in the Ground Outside the Window portion of the album is a bit brighter than the beginning part, if only because it's busier. "There's No Invisible Halloween Costume That Isn't There" is almost jaunty in a lonesome, loping Thanksgiving way, with a circular chain of interwoven guitar chords stringing the listener through the fields of verse and swooping choral accompaniment, while "The Archers Who Moved In" is barren and bracing, driven by hide-skinned hand-drums and naked narration to a sudden strumming crescendo. Orange generally keeps his lyrics appealingly evasive, only occasionally dispensing singer-songwriter metaphor: "And there's no disguise that is quite fitting for you / except in the eyes of the people you walk by / and there's no disguise that's so often worn by you / as the one in the eyes of the people who know you." Even when he does drop a sappy simile here and there, his delivery cloaks the words with a crooked, plaintive humility that's somehow softly affecting.

The album closes with the second EP's title track, and it's a late-night, staring-into-the-campfire-coals burner, simmering with low-flames of curling electric guitar finger-picking and drawn-out Will Oldham enunciation. Orange weaves a tapestry of fragmented observations about a looming storm, roars, flashes and the building apocalypse, until everything climaxes in a biblical battle of night and day: "The sun came up, with pink and orange / and seared and tore and soared on down / and it so softly pulled us open / it took the wind, and blew the lightning out." At the word "lightning," Orange rears up his guitar, loosing a wild, unhinged snarl of blaze-against-the-black-sky feedback that burns, fades, and disappears. Then there's a spell of calm. There's reprieve. And, with a final finger-picked note, there's closure.

By Britt Brown

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