Those who enjoy their indie-rock beautiful, intelligent and exquisitely constructed have been well served this year, with the debut release by We Were Promised Jetpacks and new offerings by Sunset Rubdown, Wild Beasts and Dirty Projectors proving that guys with guitars can still make interesting, moving music.
Ramona Falls is the sort-of solo (there are a frankly staggering number of guest contributors) incarnation of Brent Knopf, best known as one-third of intelligent Portland rock band Menomena. Inevitably there are some parts of Intuit that will remind you of Knopf’s more established project: the mournful, gently pounding intro of ‘Clover’ or the syncopated piano and bass rattle of ‘Russia’.
But of course an extensive comparison between the two acts would be churlish; even by the multilayered standards of Menomena, the album is packed full of elaborately assembled instrumentation; the word 'lush' can’t help but spring to one’s mind as beautiful piano parts, mandolin, strings, horns and any other number of musical ideas and stings are expertly layered atop one another. It’s hardly surprising, given the pastoral inspiration for the project’s name, and there’s certainly more of an organic feel to this record than anything Menomena have done. It’s a tad overwhelming on first listen, but not excessively so; the wryly-titled piano instrumental ‘Boy Ant’ is a pleasingly minimal respite but the material here, though ultimately rewarding on further listens, taps into the kind of halcyon childhood memories that the project was named after.
Perhaps this distant, yet vivid, childhood memory is what gives Intuit a slight air of regret, of wanting to recapture the past. Knopf’s voice is very strong throughout the album, erring just on the right side of warbly while often soaring, mournful or provocative. He’s no great lyricist but, as someone who struggles to pay attention to lyrics, I was struck by how many simple yet effective phrases stuck out even on first listen. “My heart wants just to know it exists” he intones on standout track ‘Clover’, which almost takes me back to listening to Arcade Fire’s Funeral for the first time, such is its impact. Similarly, the repeated refrain of “all the way to heaven/ the forwarding address”, somewhere between uplifting and remorseful, or the definitely sorrowful “when there’s nothing left but ashes/ rub it into my eyelashes” from ‘Darkest Day’ are surprisingly effective in their almost naive delivery.
The record’s pastoralism and striking lyrical simplicity combine wonderfully in the delicate, almost heartbreakingly beautiful ‘Bellyfulla’ with its extended castle-building metaphor, and the dark, interesting ‘Salt Sack’, slightly reminiscent of The Decemberists with its sea-shanty feel and the water-based nature of the lyrics.
Intuit is, unfortunately, probably not a high profile enough release to be mentioned in the end-of-year lists nearly as frequently as any of the aforementioned albums. But it’s easily the equal of any of those releases, in terms of its breadth of vision and depth of emotion, and it really establishing Knopf as a supremely talented and truly heartfelt songwriter. Do him a favour and check it out.
9Joseph Rowan's Score