Reviews:: Travel by Sea Shadows Rise (re-issue)

There are very few things you can take at face value, especially in the music blog world. Every record is hyped up as the best release of the year, especially once it gets the support of the most noted bloggers. There are a few names you can actually trust - notably Aquarium Drunkard and Catbirdseat - and that's because they put their money where their mouths are and release records they believe in on their own labels.

So when I heard Justin was releasing Travel By Sea on Autumn Tone, I pretty well assumed it would be rock solid. Aside from the song they added to the Yerbird compilation, I was rather unfamiliar with the two-piece country/folk version of Postal Service. Theirs is an interesting back story, as the band is made up of two relative strangers - California’s Kyle Kersten and Denver Colorado’s Brian Kraft. They made the whole record without ever actually meeting, just trading thoughts, sounds and ideas over the internet. Kyle wrote the lyrics and guitar parts, and Brian added the muscle and mood behind the songs.

The amazing thing about the outcome is not that it was made by two strangers, but how familiar they are with each other's style and how well these two strangers compliment each other. Kersten's vocals and guitar take you to a time where things move at a slower pace, but Kraft's influence gives the songs the modern touch needed to bolster the sound and make it stand out. The duo uses a gentle acoustic guitar to set the path, but dots the landscape with banjos, steel, drum machine textures and piano to create a much more interesting journey. Kersten's pain on Consequence (LTS) is matched perfectly by the textures and fuzz Kraft adds to the mix. The gentle ebbs and flows never crowd the mix. Little flourishes pull you close, and lessen their grip forcing you to focus on the desolation Kyle so often sings about.

Vocally, you can hear a lot of Kersten's peers in his own voice. Will Johnson, Willy Vlautin, Matt Pryor, Jay Farrar - any of these artists could be thrown around when talking about the band, but his voice really is his own. On the standout track, Complete Shakeup, he exposes a fragility in his voice on the falsetto stretch of the chorus, and it's the way he opens up that draws really draws you in. It's the exhaustion that end each line on Nothing (that are balanced by a swirling steel, piano and heavy down strum) or the upbeat nature of the aptly titled Brightside (that uses the almost summery banjo/guitar balance to force a smile) that helps you become a part of the tracks.

The record is seamless and encourages a complete listen by adding enough variation to keep you guessing. The gentle, electronic heartbeat of the most ambitious track (Still) or the beautiful strings that carry the tune on Come Back to You come out of nowhere, but fit perfectly. It's amazing how the duality of the band makes this whole record so completely focused and precise. I could go on and on, but it would be easier to just say this record is the type of record you'd expect to find on Autumn Tone.
MP3:: Complete Shakeup

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