Maybe should have waited for the album to be finished.
Whilst writing material for this debut album, Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Jodi – ex-Pinegrove Nick Levine’s tentative alter ego, who uses the pronouns they/them – encountered a blue heron on a couple of occasions, the impact of the first occasion “pulled me out of a spiral.” A later chance meeting with the heron during recording convinced them that this was a sure sign of something positive and they consequently had a large blue heron tattooed on their back, wings open, ready to fly, the image of which became the title track and album cover. That really should be seen as commitment to the cause.
There are echoes of Pinegrove throughout this album, with plenty of introspective sad lyrics, slow, mournful melodies, and an overall sense of angst. There isn’t much upbeat about this album, although this is to be expected given its DNA, but a “queer country” – Levine’s description – element gives some of the songs a different vibe. Opening track ‘Power’ uses a slow-building guitar, with gentle changes of pace and understated harmonies. Excellent lead single ‘Go Slowly’ follows, more slow guitar strums, this gently rolls along, Levine’s vocal matching the pace of the mood, and pedal steel folds in, helping the song trundle along to a soft close.
More splendid pedal steel is highlighted on ‘Get Back’ – possibly not the song you could be thinking of – and ‘Hawks’, as well as on the close of ‘Buddy’, which has a Neil Young-esque ponderous drum beat, but which builds into a crescendo of dirty guitar. The slow and deliberate ‘Softy’, with wavering quiet vocal and yet more gentle guitar is one of the standout tracks of the album, before a couple of oddities….’Water’ and ‘River Rocks’, tracks of just over a minute each. Both are actually quite delightful, especially the latter where you could feel a trick has been missed….perhaps this could/should have been developed into something really quite substantial.
This is an album of short duration, 10 tracks totalling under half an hour, although as above two of those are marginally more than a minute long each. Some tracks fade out as much as 15 seconds before the end, which also contributes to the short time. And this is part of the problem with the record; there is perhaps a little too much filler, perhaps they could have waited until a complete album of songs was ready, perhaps developed ‘River Rocks’, for example. As a collection, it all feels disjointed somehow, possibly a result of this lack of depth in material; this feels more like a long-ish EP.
Lyrically there are strengths and musically it is a very simple affair, with the pedal steel making an excellent contribution. Production is a little hit-and-miss; in addition to the long fade-outs, there are sounds of movement, as if someone is moving to turn off the tape machine. However, it is true to say that this is definitely not a Pinegrove side project, it stands on its own merits and there are good enough elements here to look forward to future solo efforts.