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Column: I & II EP Review

Kevin Carr

My last two reviews were both long, the first more so. With the first, my goal was to analyze each song as much as I could until reaching a point of higher understanding. It seemed to work, but taught me a lesson on getting too close to the sun. I started to grow away from the songs since the aspect of mystery and wonder evaporated as I began to understand more. With the second review, I attempted to sit back and see from a broader perspective how the experience of a live show could impact an album’s aura. This also seemed to work, but I found that I still longed to dive deeper and offer more feedback for the musicians. Here, I’ll try to find a common ground. This review will be shorter and more stream-of-consciousness orientated. Or maybe not. I’ve only written this so far.

Enter Column, and their debut EP I & II. A side project dream of Twin Peaks’ Cadien James and Post Animal’s Javi Reyes that finally came to be in early 2019. The two fused their taste for ambient acoustic-based writing and captured its hazy presence with an old reel to reel tape machine. Helping them with the recordings were the rest of Post Animal: Jake Hirshland on guitar and synth, Wes Toledo on drums, Matt Williams on bass, and Dalton Allison “triggering nature sounds”. Released on August 16, 2019, I & II is a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly “indie” world.

“I” is a 5 minute and 30-second daydream that passes with the blink of an eye. Beautifully written, arranged, mapped and presented in all aspects. A foggy countdown leads us right into a sun's shimmering reflection off of the stream water, early in the morning. A steady sense of floatation is provided to the listener for as long as they are willing. Glistening tape warble guitars, intertwining bass and simplistic drums narrate the audience effectively into Column’s headspace. “The column have appeared, they are growing near”. A seemingly perfect description for the moment and what’s to come. Already somewhat present in my mind and continually growing is the similarity in tones to Twin Peaks’ song “Fat Chance”, one of my favorite songs of theirs that sports the old-style bending acoustic guitar sound that can also be heard here. It’s there most of the time, but if you pay attention to the higher notes on the B and high E strings you can really hear it. It’s a natural twinkle that brings life in my opinion, and I’ve just started learning how to produce it on my own. A further confirmation of this idea is given in the second verse. “All the sights to see, but nowhere I can be” is a word for word line from “Fat Chance” but used here as well. I don’t exactly know why. Either Cadien used it without being aware that he’s used the line before (something that happens to me in my own songwriting quite a lot) or he knew about it and didn’t care, potentially hoping no one would notice or to mess with us and make ourselves ask this exact question. Well either way, I don’t mind at all and I think it’s cool how the same line works so well in both contexts. “Focus for the time.”

“See it forming right in front of you. Turn your head and change your point of view.” I love the syncopation of this chorus and the staircase melody, but I especially connect with the simplicity of the words. “Turn your head and change your point of view.” Turn your head and you can literally have a new point of view. It’s that easy. A concept I’ve certainly thought about before and yet it’s still so simple. We have control over the light that we let pass through our eyes. As well as the light that we don’t let in. As bland as a turn of the head, focus of the eye, we can control the world that we perceive and I’m glad that they refer to this “ideology”.

The song still has room to grow, and that’s exactly what it does. Synth is introduced in the first chorus and leads into a synth-led bridge section. With the third verse comes another synth line presented as arpeggiating chimes as well as an updated drum beat hitting the off-beats. After the fourth verse comes a synth solo that blends into the second chorus and draws additional vocal harmonies. The synth-driven bridge follows this chorus again and finally fades the song away.

I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I am by this track. I simply don’t have the vocabulary for it. But the song is so great. The laid back beat, cascade of guitars (with perfect tone) and especially the spacy-ness of the vocal harmonies and lyrics provide for an eerily familiar human experience. It’s as if the song started the moment I regained consciousness, and the words are actually coming from my own mind as initial thoughts as I recount dreams and figure out how to reengage with the world.

“II” starts off in what seems like the tornado from The Wizard of Oz. After a few long swirls it breaks into groove. What comes to mind first is the similarity in sound to the band Whitney. If you’re not familiar with them, their sound is mostly defined by the “happy car ride” feel in their rhythms, but the uniqueness in their high vocals sets them apart. That same kind of rhythm, minus a horn section, is present in “II”. The song travels lightly through the first two verses, staying minimalistic with some flare from the diminished flavor of the fifth verse line, almost like a bridge. But the emergence after the first chorus makes the first two minutes seem like it was just an introduction. The beat hits harder, bass joins the party along with more hi-hat driving, guitar, and harmonies. What I’ve noticed in a lot of Twin Peaks’ tracks is their use of layering. I definitely believe Cadien brought this idea along with him to Column because both “I” and “II” have an extreme sense of continuous buildup over time, adding new components and reinforcement at critical points in the songs.

The main theme for this song, in my opinion, is accepting that the past is the past and that all things must pass. Thanks, George. But with lyrics like the opening line, it’s easy to gather an idea of what they’re talking about. “Don’t seem to have all that time anymore, all I have is my age now. And all those people I loved and adored, they’re all turning a page now”. Everyone goes through that shit and it’s easy to get caught up craving the past, even though sometimes change is what you need. “Taking harbor in old memories…sitting still as it sails away from me…it’s all gone now”. There are numerous lines similar to this throughout the song and they just emphasize the message of the song more. Fittingly, the song ends with the same words of the first verse, really driving this thought home.

Overall, I think this EP is brilliant. Even though it’s just two songs, it has the feeling of a catalog already. That could just be because the band was formed by musicians that already have a lot of music out, but I still think the particular sound that Column offers carries a large volume of material. I have not heard of Post Animal before being exposed to Column, so naturally, I could only comment on the similarities to Twin Peaks’ music. Writing this review has certainly persuaded me to go give them a listen and see if there’s something notable there as well. There probably is. Personally, I sway more towards “I” than “II”. It just seems more like the kind of music that I write, so I can inevitably connect with that more. And I’m not normally a fan of happy, up-tempo songs. They just seem fake and corny, and kind of like “selling out”. But “II” isn’t. It has a warm feel to it, and it’s not written about happiness or overtly trying to attract a certain audience. Column makes real music, and I hope you’ll go give them a listen.

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