Calgrove is all about unexpected flourishes, the kind of little tweaks that take a seemingly straightforward indie rock song and place it at a Dutch angle. The Baltimore band’s second EP, Wind Vane, is full of slightly askew arrangements and unorthodox instrumentation that make it a compelling listen. Calgrove is Taylor Batton (vocals, guitar, piano), Jack Stansbury (vocals, guitar), Arta Aramideh (bass), Chad Schwensen (lap steel), and Riley Campbell (drums).
The opener, “Hot,” arrives sombre and steady like a Built to Spill song as a percussive guitar riff prods along the verses. As the tune unfolds, the band’s pedal steel player begins to fill the margins with hushed, simple runs. This turns what could have been a plodding song about coming home from a shitty job to a sweltering apartment, and watch the ceiling fall in, into something more intriguing.
The sticky, uncomfortable film of mid-Atlantic summers coat Wind Vane. It pops up in the lyrics and is evoked in the first two songs’ plodding tempos as if it were too damn oppressive to play any faster. On the second track, “Back it Up,” the weather is used to illustrate the stagnation and misery of being stuck in a dead end Virginia town where “your sister’s out clubbing,” while the narrator sits home “sticky and wet.” Like its precursor, “Back it Up” has a sparse set of imagery heavy lyrics. Listening to these tracks is like falling in and out of brief, half-formed dreams on a night where it’s too humid to stay asleep.
Next up, “Cry,” picks up the tempo and embraces Whiskeytown-style alt-country with mixed results. It’s a welcome change of pace after the first two tunes, but also the EP’s weakest offering. Where the pedal steel works as an unexpected, spectral element on the other tracks; here it feels like a cliché. It doesn’t help that the band struggles to translate their indie rock sensibility into a memorable take on a genre where it’s easy to fall into tropes. “Cry” isn’t a bad song, it’s just not a particularly memorable one.
Throughout Wind Vane co-songwriters and vocalists, Jack Stansbury and Taylor Batton, often double one another, but on the EP’s last two tracks they overlap their vocals in a ramshackle way that recalls how Robert Altman used to overlap the dialogue in his movies. On “Flak Bait,” the two vocalists alternate between streams of conscious musings about the Baltimore Orioles, World War II bombers, and getting bombed at their favorite haunts where everybody knows their names for better or for worse.
Stansbury and Batton push this unorthodox vocal approach even further on the gorgeous, eponymous closing track. “Wind Vane,” starts out as an earnest meditation on dealing with heartbreak, but takes a turn as one vocalist interjects seemingly unrelated musings beneath the more traditional melody. It’s disarming in a way that made me wonder if an ad had popped up in another tab in my browser, but ultimately this big swing works surprisingly well. When, a few minutes later, some studio banter makes its way onto the track, one vocalist announcing “Okay, that’s it for singing,” I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not to believe him. But the songs ride an ethereal, vocal-less groove for five more minutes, the band luxuriating in the lush soundscape they’ve created. Thanks to the bold choices that Calgrove made throughout their EP, the near ten-minute victory lap feels earned.
Stream Wind Vane below: