Clay Cantrell- The Tree Farmer
Hypnotic folk stylings echoing in from Tennessee. Smoky, dream-like finger picking, hypnotic mournful piano, and jabs of electric guitar testifying, all in a half hours time. Songs of the late night or early morning, hazy and bruised but beautiful through and through. We were blown away on first listen and continue to be countless spins later.

c32 edition of 100. 

2012.   055.



Kind Words:

Tome to the Weather Machine:
It's about damned time I posted something about a House of Alchemy release. Label-honcho Adam Richards has sent me (I think) about eight tapes and three CD-r's over the past twelve moths or so. In my defense, one of the reasons I haven't been able to write about any of them is because... well, it's because most of them leave me pretty much wordless. That's not so much a "this is amazing" or "this is terrible" remark (in fact, nothing Richards has sent me so far has been even close to bad) as it is a "this is all just fucking strange" thing. The music is so consistently and sincerely challenging that it's been difficult to harness anything that remotely hints at a coherent description into a review. And that's not necessarily to say that I won't keep stabbing away at some of these (the Mama Bäer CD, especially), it's just been tough. So I wonder if reviewing this Clay Cantrell tape, which is far and away the most accessible thing I've heard from the label yet, is something of a cop-out. But with just six well-defined and rounded tracks here and not much more than a guitar, a voice, piano, and the occasional viola contribution from collaborator Ashley Morris, The Tree Farmer isn't just easier to wrap the brain around, it's also a truly pretty release of songs that showcases a real talent that requires a review. Lack-of-weirdness cop-out or not (yeah, I know... not exactly the TOME's MO), this is regardless a tape that is well deserving of some serious deck time.

Though it sounds like The Tree Farmer was either recorded or dubbed a little bit hot with some noticeable distortions in the bass, the noise comes across almost as an intentional element to the compositions, giving these fragile melodies some grit, grime and bite that serves them surprisingly well. Cantrell's approach is a nice combination of folk stylings and psychedelic, raga-esque meanderings, which are much more rponounced on the b-side as in the lenghty "untitled (Morning)." Overall the tape has an outdoorsy quality to it, fire-pit guitar jams backed with soothing moans in the vocals. Cantrell's voice sounds pushed to hit some of the higher notes, straining to get up there, but delivering with an honest passion that reminds me a lot of Dean Wareham hammering out a Galaxie 500 classic. Able to raise goosebumps with stripped-down setups and simple songcraft, Cantrell (like Wareham) lets the performance and delivery do a hefty portion of the work. Some tracks are built around single chord strums while vocals and guitars whale on top, groaning in "Late Aster Girl"'s battered beauty, the mix bludgeoned with bass as a backbeat ticks its way across the piece's breadth. Teeth-grinding moments here for sure, but also thrilling, aching, and altogether gorgeous.

I don't have a ton of info on Clay Cantrell's history, but if this were his debut I'd be majorly surprised. Cantrell is a gifted songwriter and a pretty good player, too. His spacing and timing throughout The Tree Farmer is impecible, allowing jams to extend and swirl themselves into satisifying sections of sheer psychedelia when appropriate. Elsewhere, finger-picking in his acoustic guitar has the gentleness of Nick Drake which is a tough thing to complain about. Whether or not you know anything about this guy, this tape would have to be an excellent place to start learning.

East Village Radio:

The music of Tennessee’s Clay Cantrell is perfectly suited to usher in the cool days and nights of orange and brown hues. Traditionally minded but with a fine ear for atmospherics, Cantrell writes songs that haunt and linger. When electricity is invoked, Cantrell’s tender leads weave through a solid, but forgiving, wooden framework without losing a touch of the song’s down-home warmth and nuance.

Check out Cedars Woodline, a cut from Cantrell’s forthcoming cassette on House of Alchemy, The Tree Farmer, as well as a few other pieces from his Soundcloud, below. You can also head to Cantrell’s Bandcamp to pick up his excellent Bird Songs EP. Listening to this stuff while perched beside a campfire isn’t necessary, but highly recommended.

Upstate Soundscape

Clay Cantrell’s cassette The Tree Farmer is a unique blend of atmospheric folk and blues-tinged singer-songwriter compositions. While Clay has a relatively mysterious presence on the internet, Buffalo’s House of Alchemy label has shown him some deserved attention by putting out this gem of a cassette. With labelmates like Obscurer and Mama Baer, Cantrell is an odd fit for such a label renowned for specializing in stranger sounds. Cantrell’s ghostly ambiance, however, does share certain similarities with other artists that have been released by HOA.

The songs on the Memphis native’s cassette (none of which come titled) show an impressive musical range; some songs are fairly straight-forward folk rock (suggestive of The Decemberists or The National), others songs, like “Late Aster Girl”–which was posted to Soundcloud by House of Alchemy–show more ambient, heavy blues sections reminiscent of a melancholy Embryonic Journey with a little more of a metal influence. Another song “Cotton Wood,” which is posted to Cantrell’s Soundcloud page, is a classic ballad overlain with haunting vocals and a wonderfully resonant piano.

In general, the vocals are not so strong on this release, but they don’t necessarily have to be. On the folkier songs the voice is more prominent, while the mellower, experimental tracks feature odd melodies, hypnotic harmonies, and heavily distorted guitar. Although Cantrell is definitely a far better guitarist than a vocalist, his vocals work well with the music (which is true of a lot of artists with the same vocal style). It’s all in good taste; it symbolizes a movement. In music there needs to be a positive message that individuality and sincerity to the self are the most important things you need, and when artists bring off-key vocals to the table it brings a new dimension to their music, as numerous artists have shown over the past decade. Vocal qualities aside, Cantrell shines as a lyricist, which makes sense since he also writes poetry.

After a long day, this album and a beer would do perfectly. The calming tones of Cantrell’s Memphis-tinged voice combined with the completely mesmerizing distortion and reverb help to achieve a dreamlike effect when listening.  -Chris Samide

Honest Bagger
Fresh from the new batch  of House of Alchemy tapes, the Tree Farmer is the hazy light in the night or the nascent energy of the early morning.  The Tree Farmer - from Memphis/Nashville-based musician, Clay Cantrell, with Ashley Morris on viola - contains great songwriting, gorgeous vocals, and a mix of electric and acoustic reverie.  The first track demonstrates Clay's proficiency with the guitar, as his patient Chasny-like finger picking and gentle strums create a beautiful environment for the vocals.  Nothing quite prepares one for the third track, an electric deluge of thick, hash-oil tones, and heavily treated vocals, in the spirit of Jakob Olausson.   If you're into Six Organs or Jakob Olausson zones, or enjoyed the beautiful, yet limited, Bells Ringing in the Dells of Haunted Hours lp on Time Lag, then this tape is the medicine for your head.  The new batch from House of Alchemy is one of its best.  One may purchase The Tree Farmer, and the new batch, directly from House of Alchemy.