Sparrow Moon Lodge – Bulldozer

 Sparrow Moon Lodge – Bulldozer

Sparrow Moon Lodge – Bulldozer – Album Review

Alrighty y’all…we’ve got a heads up here on an album you can find being released in January of the new year ahead, and from the sounds of things, I think you can safely say that keeping an eye and an ear out for the official release of Bulldozer by Sparrow Moon Lodge is a good idea.  While I don’t know a ton about the man behind the music personally, y’all know I’ve got mad respect for the kind of artist that wants to handle their business DIY – we’re heckin’ built on that spirit over here at sleepingbagstudios and we wouldn’t even exist otherwise!  Sometimes you gotta take on every role to make things happen, sometimes you just want to – either way, you better believe I’m stoked that Andrew Holmes has created a solid debut record to be proud of as Sparrow Moon Lodge – so let’s talk about what you’ll find on it.

First thing you might discover, is that the dude’s got the eight songs on Bulldozer split into a side A and a side B…which works for me, I’m old school and I come from the cassette generation.  Now all I need are some liner notes to read on repeat as I listen, and I’ll be happy as a clam.  Anyhow.  “A Sparrow” is the cut that starts the album up, and it’s also the first single you’ll find out there in advance too.  It’s a good choice in that regard…I could probably make an argument on behalf of a few of these tunes, but I’m sure that’s something Holmes has planned for later on down the road too.  “I am lightning, far away the poison sky found a way to punch a hole inside of the night” – that’s more than an enticing first line to hear on your way into a record, that’s freakin’ poetry in action right there dear readers, dear friends – and you’ll find a whole lot more of it spread throughout his words on this album.  Like all great artists and bands out there, it’s not even just about what’s being said, but how he chooses to express his lyrics – listen to the way he’s phrased that opening line for example, and you’ll find Sparrow Moon Lodge has that real crafted Indie sound & spirit to it, right from the drop of track one – you can practically taste the hops!  It works though…there’s a warmth in the glow of the sound, and even though you’ll find a serious amount of contrast that exists within Andrew’s lyricism in comparison, it’s still endearing to experience.

As for “The Mountaintop,” it somewhat answers the question of what it might sound like if you combined the sweetness of something like the acoustic side of The Plain White T’s with the barn-flavor you get in the artistic vibes of The Arcade Fire – and heck yeah, I’m here for it.  You can hear the care that is being taken with the songwriting, and it’s echoed within the performances you’ll find – “The Mountaintop” has come out exceptionally well for Andrew, and I’d have definitely put this subtle gem in the running to be a single as well – it’s straight-up interesting, at all times.  Listen to how he starts to fill in the music around the 3:15 mark for example…again, it’s understated, but the details really stack up strong.  In fact, he takes on the final minute & change of “The Mountaintop” completely instrumentally, and the brilliance you’ll find in the creativity of his music speaks as strongly as words ever could.  Lots is being said here, directly, and you feel like metaphorically as well – like the line “I’m changing all my broken strings” seems to represent Holmes in a statement like a line drawn in the sand…as if to declare it’s his time, and he’s doing everything to be ready for it, confident like never before.  As you listen to the hazy alcohol-infused lyricism at the start, you realize “The Mountaintop” definitely ain’t gonna be the happiest song you’re gonna hear this year…and lines like “you found the one, and you lost it” will practically shatter your heart into a millions pieces as you listen to it…Holmes sings it like he can barely get that line out himself without bursting into a storm of tears.  It’s a song that’s as beautiful as it is sad, and it’s built on an incredible sadness that is straight-up devastating, but illuminated by an endless admiration that never goes away.  You end up feeling like “The Mountaintop” was the song that Andrew really needed to write…it’s the kind of detail and emotion that would be hard to create out of thin air, you know what I mean?  I’d definitely assume that a song like this is based on tough, real life experience.  Love what I’m hearing though; the final instrumental-based minute reminds me a lot of Mimicking Birds – you feel every ticking second of a song like “The Mountaintop” and the overwhelming emotion it has.

I’ll admit – I got SO into “The Mountaintop” every time it came back around on my playlist, that I always felt like I struggled to get into the more upbeat & easygoing vibes of “Astronaut.”  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent tune…but it’s following an award-worthy one, and that’s never an easy spot in a lineup to fill no matter what record we’re talking about.  Andrew gives it the good ol’ college try though, and melodically, he finds several points of redemption that’ll do their best to win you over.  He’s done the right thing by adding in great details through his lyricism and the layers of his vocals…but is it going to be enough?  It’s a great question to ask – and I’d imagine the answer will be handled on a very individual basis.  As in, there SHOULD be just as many people out there on this planet that would actually prefer to hear a bit of a lighter vibe like you hear on “Astronaut” and be as stoked on that as I am personally on the darker threads that tie a song like “The Mountaintop” together.  I wouldn’t blame ya if you felt that way…every time I got through “The Mountaintop” I felt like I needed a freakin’ tub of ice cream to console myself and recover – not everyone out there ENJOYS listening to a vibe like that as much as I do!  And if that’s you, then “Astronaut” is probably more suited to your taste.  I’m not gonna be the guy to try to convince you that Sparrow Moon Lodge has completely found the sunshine and rainbows here – I wouldn’t go nearly that far, and feel like by song three that anyone listening would certainly understand that Andrew writes from a very real place of complex emotions that span an immense range of depth.  I will advise a bit of caution though…I’m onboard with about 90-95% of “Astronaut,” but hear me out.  The style of Alt-Folk that Holmes is playing within can be hard to pull off successfully in a continuous way – and one of the main reasons is because it’s extremely tough to recreate this wheel time after time, you kind of always end up with the familiarity of what’s essentially a dude and a guitar working both for and against you.  The key is to make sure you don’t end up revealing that semi-wandering in search of a something special feeling inside the music, and that each moment we hear is played with purpose, intent, and undeniable passion.  “Astronaut” has plenty of all those ingredients, don’t get it twisted – but there are a few spots here and there that I suppose could potentially have come out a bit stronger too.  That’s natural, especially in a DIY scenario…it’s not only tougher to be objective, but even just to hear what other people would hear in the music.  For the most part, “Astronaut” still comes out great – it’s kind of got this like…near Soul Asylum-esque vibe to it, but like, updated for the right here and now.

Lest we forget, we’re talkin’ DIY in every sense of the definition – everything you’ll hear is played, sung, written, produced…you get it – Andrew is responsible for ALL of it.  To hear what a balance of strengths he possesses across the board is pretty damn inspiring really.  I might not be the guy that’s gonna say a track like “Time We Lost” is my favorite jam of all jams, but I can certainly appreciate how much effort it would take to do all that he’s doing, and as a lyricist, I think the world of what he’s capable of.  Make no mistake y’all – I can lock down a paragraph or two writing these reviews and all, but the kind of skills he possesses as a songwriter are built of the stuff you can’t teach.  It gives each of his tunes a multi-dimensional chance at finding success with the audience listening.  So what if I don’t absolutely love a track like “Time We Lost” in terms of how it sounds?  I still think the lyrics are freakin’ great, and he’s also threaded some extremely brilliant transitions into the way he sings the melody in this tune too.  I have my moments here and there with “Time We Lost” – I can get to a place where I appreciate a lot of how he sings it…I might think he leans a bit too hard on the fragility vibe you’ll find in his performances and think he could benefit a little by summoning more conviction or confidence in exchange, but other times I listen to that seemingly breakable spirit he’s singing with and it’ll seem completely perfect too.  I suppose it’s the kind of thing that’s a little mood dependent I guess…”Time We Lost” was the track on side A that seemed to always have me wondering if I totally loved it, or if it still needed a bit of a tune up – and I really couldn’t tell ya what I concluded.  Each time I listen to it, even now, it generates a different result in my opinion…but ultimately, that’s not a bad thing – that creates a moment we’ll all talk about & debate over, but nothing that we’d feel indifferent about, and there’s always value in music like that.

I don’t mind being lonesome if I’m the only one” is another brilliant line that’ll stand out to ya on “Fingernail Moon” as side B begins.  Like I said, this dude could write circles around me.  He’s gotta keep an ear on those lower-tones of his register as he’s singing and whether or not they come out with the same level of commitment and strength that you find in the higher parts of his vocals, but he’s not ever too far off the mark.  “Fingernail Moon” is kind of sung in that same way you’d hear a singer like Matthew Good tackle his material…debatable spots that will sound like sheer perfection to some, and potentially off to others – but you can’t please everyone anyhow, so do what you do I say.  While Matt might not have ended up being a worldwide name, he’s fuckin’ Canadian famous to the nth degree and a legend up here in the North…he’s carved out a lifelong career, and I’d imagine that Holmes would have to be capable of the same if that’s the case.  They’re both remarkable writers, and ambitious with the way they approach making music.  Listen to the sheer amount of melodic transitions you’ll find from Sparrow Moon Lodge in a song like “Fingernail Moon” and understand that Andrew is essentially writing in a way that would stack the odds against any singer out there.  It becomes a MASSIVE challenge to get through a cut like “Fingernail Moon” without having a spot here and there that you’d feel like you might have been able to sing 10% better at some point along the way, so you end up in a position where you kind of have to accept a 95% success rate – make sense?  I’m not suggesting he write his material any differently – hell no!  I love the way that “Fingernail Moon” works, and I think we kind of end up really appreciating the beauty in the few imperfections we might experience along the way…it makes Andrew a bit more human to us, you know?  He manages to nail down the vast majority of his material, and there is an absolute magic to the most endearing points within a melody of a song like “Fingernail Moon” that you’d never want to jeopardize…so whatever you gotta do to preserve that, I’m in favor of.  Polishing things up too much isn’t always a good idea, you know what I mean?  The last thing you’d want to do is end up with a sound on a record that you couldn’t possibly recreate live if you were to perform a song like this, so ultimately I’m on Andrew’s side…I’ll take a questionable moment of tone here or there in order to save the rest & know that he could absolutely play this from the stage with this same magic.

I like that Holmes is genuinely fearless when it comes to trying out different things…that’s something that always deserves our respect on a creative level, whether we like something or not.  I’m probably the most on the fence about the inclusion of “Hook,” but just like everything from Sparrow Moon Lodge, there’s always something to dig about the material even if it doesn’t quite gel in the end.  Stylistically, you’ll find Andrew trying unique things in terms of how he chooses to sing this one – and while I get what he’s going for and think he’s onto the right ideas more or less, this would be the performance where I’d probably recommend jumping back into the booth to give it another go if he’s got the option between now and the album’s intended January release.  Because I’ll put it to you this way…and I think Holmes will get exactly what I mean, instantly – he can already sing this song better now than at the time he recorded this version.  Am I right?  He’ll be the only one that knows for sure, but what I’m hearing in “Hook” really comes down to less familiarity with the material and the melody he’s working with, which usually implies that things are still fairly new.  We all get excited when it comes time to record…and quite often, we even come up with a song or two during the process of making an album – maybe “Hook” is that tune…or perhaps maybe he just didn’t know this one quite as well like he knows the other songs backwards and forwards – it happens.  Like I was saying, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of enjoyable moments along the way that do connect, or aspects like Andrew’s lyricism, which continually proves to be his main strength above all things – there’s lots to love, but as a song, it still feels like it’s in the incubation stage in the version we hear now.  The raw edge that he tends to work with in his own signature style will help carry him a long way when it comes to his identity in sound, but he’s got a fine line to walk when it comes to what listening ears will likely accept…and my gut is tellin’ me that he’s probably making a large ask of those ears out there with what he’s currently got in “Hook.”  Do I think it can be a greater song than it is right now?  Absolutely!  Like I said…all the right pieces of the puzzle are there…I think he’s just gotta tighten this one up a bit.  At more than six & a half-minutes long, he probably has some room to trim this down a little…I’m not entirely convinced that the parts I do like best would still warrant a song at that length, but, he does have great ideas here he can build around.

Case in-point, self-editing and a lil’ restraint can definitely pay off in every way.  At less than four minutes long, I’d reckon he’s got one of his strongest tracks on Bulldozer towards the end with what we find in “Every Corner Of The Night.”  I really love what he’s done with the backing vocals and the harmonica you’ll find…he’s working with a very earthy, grounded type of song that’s got a lot of heart, sincerity, and insightful lyricism threaded into it.  On an indie level, it’s almost like what you’d think that combining the creativity, lyricism, and melodies of The Yellow Dress would be like if The Shivers were to play it – so that’s right up my alley, I love both of those bands.  Andrew’s done exceptionally well with the imagery of his words on “Every Corner Of The Night,” and I’d say that once again, it’s not just about what he’s singing, but how he goes about singing it.  Dude’s seriously gifted, and I don’t want anyone to lose sight of that fact, especially him.  The peaks and valleys of an album are natural – especially towards the start of a career, which from what I can see online, it looks like Bulldozer is where it all begins for him.  He’s got plenty of time to refine things this way or that way as he carries on from here – all I’m ever looking for at the beginning of a career is that there are ideas to work with and some talent in the mix somewhere, and he’s got plenty of both.  The songwriting of “Every Corner Of The Night” is simply outstanding, and that’s the facts.  He’s got that like…rural vibe down to a key…if he could land Sparrow Moon Lodge an opening spot for a band like, say, Illiterate Light for example…he’d be well on his way.  Because it won’t just be me that can recognize the talent this guy has.  The key to everything from here on in, at least in my opinion, is that Holmes has just gotta recognize there’s a huge difference between the version of him that’s performing “Every Corner Of The Night” and the one that’s playing “Hook.”  Like  I was tellin’ ya before, only he’s gonna know what establishes that difference…all I can tell ya is that there IS a difference, and the quicker he dials into what causes it, the quicker he’ll illuminate his path forward.  All I know for sure is that I’d listen to “Every Corner Of The Night” any day of the week and I probably will for a very, very long time to come…when Holmes is on-point like he is in songs like this one and “The Mountaintop” earlier on in the set, you can hear he’s got that uniquely prolific way of songwriting that could very well see him becoming a generational talent y’all.

He’s got a bit of that early Modest Mouse vibe to him as well, which of course, their most rabid fans will tell ya is essential listening.  I ain’t here to dispute that, though I might be more of a fan of the stuff you’d find in the middle of their career when they really seemed to hit their stride.  Anyhow.  The building blocks were always present and audible from day one, and that’s equally true of Sparrow Moon Lodge – Holmes is on solid ground already, and the more experience he continues to get under his belt, the better he’ll become I tell ya.  I like what I’m hearing so far to this point though, and he’s definitely got me believing in him.  As fragile as he can appear at points along the way through Bulldozer, there’s also a resounding strength in the songwriting that assuredly hints at a long future to follow in this music business – there’s a place for guys like Holmes and tunes like you’ll find in Sparrow Moon Lodge.  As he wraps up this album with the title-track “Bulldozer,” I found that each time it would loop around on my playlist I felt both sad that it was ending, and happy that I’d have the chance to listen to it all over again when it started back up on repeat…and I felt that way for the same reason; because this dude is special.  I don’t know if I’ve put my finger on completely all that makes him that way yet – or if he even knows what it is that he’s got inside that will go on to prove that assessment to be even more true as the years go by, but I’m tellin’ ya…I hear something in Andrew’s music that ain’t like the rest that’s out there.  He’s the authentic real deal, and while we might just be scratching the surface of what makes him that, I fully believe the more we get to hear his music, the more it’ll confirm he’s not just gonna be good, but great.  “Bulldozer” makes for an understated finale…somewhat symbolic of the humble man behind the music – I think it’s the job of people like myself to sing his praises more-so than he likely ever will.  Rest assured I haven’t been doing what I do for as long as I’ve been doing it without having an ear for what stands out for all the right reasons…so mark my words y’all…you ain’t heard the last of Sparrow Moon Lodge or the songwriting of Andrew Holmes.  This dude’s got a very bright future right up ahead, 100%.

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