For such a mellow, soothing album, The Wooden Birds‘ 2009 debut, Magnolia, caused quite a stir among critics. Some lauded the simplistic composition and former American Analog Set frontman Andrew Kenny’s breathy vocals, while others loathed the exact same qualities, calling it a mediocre Elliott Smith/Iron & Wine knockoff. Fortunately, Kenny, Matt Pond (of Matt Pond PA), and Leslie Sisson persevered–and it paid off. Two Matchsticks maintains the simplicity of Magnolia, while adding sonic depth and variety previously unseen, resulting in an album that grows warmer and more meaningful with each listen.
The foundations for each of Two Matchsticks‘ 12 tracks are the same: tenderly harmonized vocals, wandering guitar, and subdued drums. Add in sporadic Ben Gibbard accompanying vocals, soothing grooves that recall American Analog Set’s phenomenal tracks such as “Immaculate Heart 1”, and additional delightfully catchy melodies, and the formula certainly doesn’t lend itself to monotony. Instead, the album is clean and refreshing. Standout segments include the album’s title track and “Company Time”, both of which are mid-tempo songs that employ compelling narrative lyrics and a calming combination of pattering drums and lackadaisical electric guitar to ease the listener into a pleasant trance.
Sisson’s increased role in this go-around is amongst its biggest differentiating factors and is arguably Two Matchsticks‘ strongest asset. With stellar lead performances on tracks such as “Baby Jeans”, Wooden Birds goes from sounding like a stripped down, cautious second coming of AmAnSet to a wholly new endeavor. Sure, the influences are still strongly visible, but when Kenny and Sisson sing back and forth on “Believe” and “A lie” or when the haphazard group vocals on “Be No Lie” start, Two Matchsticks marks and forges a charm of its own. Here’s hoping Kenny and company keep up this kind of work, so maybe The Wooden Birds will garner some of the acclaim that always seemed to slight American Analog Set.