The only thing certain in life is change. No opening thought could be more pertinent and prominent when speaking of Edison, an alternative folk trio hailing from the regions of Denver, CO.
When a person gets to know and gets familiar with a band, there can be multiple layers involved. There's the unfolding life of the collective entity that makes music people love and there are the unfolding lives of the individual people who make up that entity. Sarah Slaton (vocals, guitar), Dustin Morris (mandolin, percussion, vocals, trumpet, harmonica), and former Lumineers member, Maxwell Hughes (vocals, guitar), have never put barriers between the two, ever since their beginnings in 2014. Sometimes it's easy to compartmentalize a band from its players – especially when the music released into the world only shows a flash or a vaguely overarching snapshot of an event. There's nothing wrong with music being vastly open to interpretation of course, but, Edison's music is just the opposite and its debut full length, Familiar Spirit, out today (Rhyme & Reason Records, 2016), makes it a priority for anyone who listens, to know and remember that.
That's not to say this nine track debut isn't relatable or won't feel familiar, like its namesake implies. The themes of each song from the album recount situations and internal decisions – positive, negative, and so many emotions in between – common from one person to the next. Relationships, (“The Good Fight,” “Civil War”) dreams for the one time future (“New York”), realizations surrounding the state of one's personal growth (“Water in the Well”) among others: there's no risk of encountering a conceptual stranger here. Where Edison does diverge – and not just with this record but overall in how this band presents itself – is in its embrace of an honest specificity about what, where, when, why, and how the band as a whole and individually are faring in life, which stands back to back with its thematic generalization. If music were like photographs, the lyrics of Edison's songs would be like a finely tuned and measured zoom. It's because of this boundless openness that Edison the band, and the individuals of Slaton, Morris, and Hughes, cannot be kept apart. Summarizing tracks from Familiar Spirit under concise descriptions like, “a breakup song” or “a song about traveling” might be enough for some but, those with an inclination to look with the zoom will find so much more.
First established via narration of a deeply intimate degree (And the soul flew out your body / oh right in front of me / and I call your name / Oh I, call your name / oh, you haunt me), the emotions unearthed over the course of each individual's listening experience are only to be further magnified through Slaton, Morris, and Hughes' performances – none of which ever fall short of downright palpable. This quality is placed at the forefront of every second of Familiar Spirit, giving a look into those lightning-precious moments that can happen in a studio when the chemistry between producer (in this case, Chris “Frenchie” Smith) and band is at its highest. Effects like reverb and delay are dusted over the top of Slaton's leading vocals but never does she actually need them to stir something within a person or to show how she herself is genuinely moved in the “here and now” of singing any particular line (But remember my name cause you'll be waiting, no, / It'll be my time and yours is taken), word, or even just open syllabic vocals like those at the very start of the album.
In contrast, the spotlight on Morris's effortless manipulation of the mandolin, emotive quiver on the trumpet (“San Jose”) or immersive hits of his double floor toms (“The Good Fight”), and Hughes' fluidly mesmerizing guitar work – put front and center on solo instrumental track “Idea 5” – are often left little room for expansion in the mix. This shows the resulting sounds just as they are and in tandem, just how focused and in sync with their instruments the two gentlemen are as well. Furthermore, the decision to keep any kind of after-the-fact sonic exaggeration to an overall minimum, matches the realness of what Edison are out to tell in story. “Open Road” goes this route, sounding more like a serendipitously recorded and well performed live jam, as opposed to a studio-controlled, session cut.
“Tie Me Down,” which ends Familiar Spirit on a literal first-time-ever take, extraneous sounds and all, leaves listeners with a reminder of Edison's DIY beginnings, which made feelings developed from playing music and being connected with people, the priority. It epitomizes Edison's aversion to piles of filters – both the kind employed by engineer and the invisible but often deemed inevitable kind, that separates a band from their family, friends, and fans past a certain level of public awareness.
Indeed, Edison has grown leaps and bounds in artistry and public stature since the release of their previous EP, Ghosts (independent, 2015). Yet, even now, with teams of supporters and a draping of some new celebrity status, what Slaton, Morris, and Hughes have deemed worthy to be their debut shows the band solidly keeping ties of its own to its “make our own way” roots and all the humanizing character of life and loss that comes with that. This is Edison's most priceless trait and given that it's not just a mantra for branding but an intrinsic part of each of person in this group, Edison stands to break the mold of what it means to stay grounded and true, while achieving even more success in the years to come. Listen closely to Familiar Spirit and it becomes clear this is in the trio's hearts all the time, while never being something that holds them back from change.
A little bird came to me,
shouted little victory.
You'll be fine.
I'll be fine.