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Music Review: Umbrella Tree – The Church & The Hospital

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I'm not entirely sure what the Umbrella Tree is?  Sometimes, the members seem to be out-and-out progsters, then they take a turn into art-rock, the catch all term for students who're too scared to admit that they're prog, and sometimes they just play weird pop. 

Whatever, it's all rather engaging. Not that anyone from a university ever reads my site, but imagine Arcade Fire if they weren't a pile of keech.  Or The Decemberists overdosing on Peter Hamill solo albums.

Album number two – the follow-up to What Kind of Books Do You Read? – (answer – does a takeaway menu count as a book?), is a smorgasbord of innovative ideas and ambition, some of which end up crashing ignominiously to Earth, but they get a large amount of kudos for trying. 

At times schizophrenic, in no small measure due to the clashing vocal styles of keyboardist / vocalist Jillian Lee and guitarist / vocalist Zachary Gresham, who along with drummer Derek Pearson are Umbrella Tree.  With Lees nonchalant cooler-than-thou pose, and Greshams crazy-guy-on the sidewalk squall, they have a different slant on what constitutes harmony vocals, but it certainly gets your attention.

Unlike many band members that seem to think that meandering is a positive force, Umbrella Tree have stayed true to the three minute pop song, managing to condense their rampant ideas into easily digestible chunks that are full to the brim with quirks and ideas. Even the instrumental track, "Jellyfish Evaporate" keeps you clinging on, wondering just how it's all going to end.

A lot of what the members produce has dark undertones; indeed some of the darkness hits you right upside the head, none more so than on the album closer "The Youngest Apple," a tale of  an unwanted baby sister’s death.  But they can turn it all around with some joyous moments like "1054".  Although, given my predilection for all things religious and gothic, it's not surprising that I find myself inexorably drawn towards "Make Me a Priest"  and "The Monk & The Nun."

It's an adventurous album that sometimes falls over itself in its headrush of ideas, but I'd rather listen to a glorious attempt to touch the sky, than the concrete slabs of dullness that permeate modern music.

About Stuart A Hamilton