Giants in the Trees
In many ways, Krist Novoselic was the most interesting man in Nirvana. Cobain was complex, sure, but pretty transparent. And Grohl, well, the less we say about what he’s been up to since Nirvana, the better. Novoselic was this giant in the middle, bouncing around stage playing his bass guitar, usually grinning goofily, sarcastic as fuck in interviews, but it was also clear there was more to him. After the end of Nirvana, Novoselic became more political, or, rather, became more active in activism and politics (he had always been political). He wrote a book about fixing democracy. And then he disappeared (sort of) into the woods of southwestern Washington State, where he lives on a farm, grows his own food and is otherwise a hippy.
He began hosting music nights at a local gathering a few years back, and out of that came his new band, Giants in the Trees. This is their second album, the first came out late in 2017 and was incredibly catchy and listenable. If you’ve listened to enough Nirvana, you can instantly recognise the bass in Giants as Novoselic’s. But, this isn’t him and a band. This is a band. Novoselic plays bass and accordion. Jillian Raye is the frontwoman, but she also plays some bass and banjo. Ray Prestergard plays the guitars, and Erik Friend plays drums, percussion, and mandolin. Friend also produced both of their albums.
Giants really don’t have anything to prove to anyone and it shows. Their music is laid-back, and has this wonderful mellow feel to it. Volume One was a looser affair, to be sure, dominated by Raye’s voice, which veers from something akin to Edie Brickell back in the day to something deeper and more whimsical.
Volume Two finds the Giants tighter and taughter. They’ve been playing together for a few yeas now, and it’s reflected in the music, which sounds more confident, and a bit more complicated here. On my first listen to the new album, I thought they not only sounder heavier, but they also sounded a bit more jaded. But that was just a first impression. Raye’s lyrics keep it from getting too heavy or too down.
But the music is heavier, it is more of a stomp. They describe themselves as ‘Americana,’ the wonderful catch-all for all things not really easily categorically-speaking. For Giants in the Trees, this means a whole jumbalaya of musical forms, from rock to country to post-punk, and even some folk. And so on and so forth.
Volume Two kicks off with ‘Feel You Now,’ which musically is laid back and mellow as Raye sings about two souls coming together (it’s a love song, dig?). Novoselic’s bass is the driving force of this band, though, and he steers us through a suite of songs that is more rocked out than last time
I was particularly taken by ‘Star Machine,’ which has a sexy post-punk/Talking Heads feel to it, a bit of a shimmer in the bass.
This is followed by ‘Weight of the World.’ Both songs are driven by Novoselic, but on the second song, in particular, Prestergard’s guitars dominate, as they build walls of sound and slides for Raye’s voice to travel atop of. ‘Sons and Daughters’ has a bit more of a country feel to it, both in the music and Raye’s voice.
I have to be honest, whereas the first Giants in the Trees album had me on the first place, Volume Two has taken more time to sink in. I kind of like this, though, as this album is more complicated musically, and is the kind of music you can just slip into once you know it.