Album Review :
Bare Branches - Haunts

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Artist: Bare Branches

Album: Haunts

Label: None

Release Date: March 27, 2011

Reviewer: Eric Pettersson


  1. Summer Ghost
  2. Kids in Love
  3. Sisters
  4. Be My Dark
  5. Flares
  6. Hospice
  7. Youth Is Wasted on the Young
  8. Patmos
  9. Kids in Love II
  10. Tenderly, Tenderly

Hailing from Butler, Pennsylvania (about an hour north of Pittsburgh), the band formerly known as Hand Drawn Mountains has released their first record under their new name, Bare Branches. Produced by Listener’s Christin Nelson, these slow indie rock tracks are full of the seriousness and reverence that can only come from meaningful real life experience. With an understated drone similar to some dark 80s pop, the low male vocals evoke sadness and contemplation like a Donnie Darko that wasn’t trying so hard to be deep. “Be My Dark” brings in a fun and hopeful moment with a chorus that sings, “We’re together. But we’re not together. We’re alone but not alone.” The rest of the record, for the most part, sticks to slower and more reserved sounds, such as “Hospice.” I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but the melody for the chorus is very similar to the hymn “I Surrender All,” which for me adds tremendous layers of depth and meaning to a song about death. If intentional, the pairing is brilliant. If not, it is still a very powerful coincidence. Haunts ends with its softest and most sentimental number, “Tenderly, Tenderly.” This 8 minute track sings about having a child in a way that is in awe of the mystery of human life, though the reference to a pale horse has me thinking there’s more going on here than I fully understand. It may seem quiet on the surface, but beneath this somber track is a level of emotion that is almost too much to handle.

Overall: Haunts is an exploration of mystery, a subtle and somber journey to the depths of the human soul. There are moments of hope and joy, just as there are moments of grief and confusion. In the end we get a picture that is painted delicately, full of complex yet minute details that do not make a show of themselves. Rather, the sounds and images used here work gently to pull the heart and mind in different directions, and the genius of this release is that all this immense emotion is easily missed if one is not open and attentive. In other words, it works just like the real life it portrays. If you’re going to pick this one up, I highly recommend looking at the physical release because the packaging was individually handcrafted by the band, using the same level of care and craftsmanship used to make the music inside.