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Listening Party

Small Sur: Tones

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Small Sur



Music for getting from point “A” to point “B.” It could be a genre unto itself. It’s more immediate and, in some ways, personal—wandering is a solitary, headspace-y way of being—than electronic/electro-acoustic ambient music, but still within the whole meditative sphere. Yet music for driving through quiet hills alone is somehow different than music for sitting stationary alone. Perhaps you’ve felt this too. Or will feel it with Small Sur’s Tones, less the sound wash the title implies—or bits of last year’s Bare Black EP suggest—than sound wandering, and then wandering some more.

The palette is familiar and alluring: electric guitar played slowly and, more in the spirit of an acoustic, simply and with a particularly Earth-y or at least natural kind of resonance. Notes are sad-sounding, or at least wistful. Accompaniment is there, but sparing to such an extreme degree it feels like band-as-texture rather than band-as-band: some light flute (?), subtle vocal harmony courtesy of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner (the writer’s temporary roommate, for disclosure’s sake), a dusting of percussion. The minimalism at times almost feels like a taunt or dare: Dare you to be bored by something this pretty.

In the end, maybe “getting” from point “A” to point “B” is too assertive: This isn’t fuel or energy of the kinetic sort. Traveling with, as a companion or passenger, then. Frontman Bob Keal’s voice is the thing that threatens to become something more, a comfortingly awkward Phil Elverum-ish instrument that packages wistfulness like the world is dying and he’s just now getting used to that fact. Actually, Tones as a whole is an all-around good tool for getting the listener to that state too.

Small Sur celebrates the release of Tones at the Metro Gallery July 7. For more information visit

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