Snowblind – Graph Rabbit
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1. My Name
2. Blackwood Tree
4. White Birds
5. Make It Stop
6. Falling Snow
7. Only Fields
8. White Out
Digital Release Date: October 9th, 2012
Vinyl Release Date: Fall 2013
Catalog Number: BSR001
Produced, Mixed and Recorded by Allen Farmelo at The Snow Farm, NYC.
Mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson at Greenhouse Studios, Iceland
Artwork by Christopher Vetur
Design by Christopher Vetur & Betsy Frazer
Graph Rabbit’s debut album Snowblind is a cinematic concept record in which an unnamed character wanders through a surreal, minimalist snowscape, continually falling in and out of sleep, following birds through fields, arguing with a river and eventually just surrendering to the silence of snowfall. This album begins and ends in a world of its own making.
With a gorgeous high falsetto as sincere as it is otherworldly, singer/guitarist Austin Donohue deftly carries the album’s ethereal theme from its bewildered start to its snowy finish. With Shy Kedmi on analog synths, Graph Rabbit combines finger-picked acoustic guitar and pulsing synth arpeggios into a sound that defies the typical associations of either of those elements. Imagine Nick Drake produced by Brian Eno.
Donohue is the first to admit that Graph Rabbit’s sound is a direct result of an intense collaboration with producer Allen Farmelo (who has worked extensively with bands like The Cinematic Orchestra, Talk Normal and Mike Jorgensen of Wilco). “When we began working together I had no idea what I was in for,” explains Donohue. “For almost a year Allen made me sing the same three songs every day into my iPhone and email him those MP3s. Allen would write back long emails about every nuance until I finally delivered a track that made him cry.”
At that point, Farmelo and Donohue scrapped those three songs and began to conceptualize the album. Donohue, a filmmaker by training, filled a large piece of paper with a ton of images he felt strongly about; Farmelo, a minimalist at heart, circled only three: birds, trees and snow.
Minimalism continued to serve them as they stripped production down to just one voice, one finger-picked guitar, and the curiously small analog synth called a Pocket Piano. Rattling sleigh bells, twinkling glockenspiel and an Estonian handbell ensemble (miraculously sampled without time or pitch adjustments) form a metal bridge spanning the sonic gap between the acoustic and electronic elements. Donohue’s singularly beautiful voice sends it all soaring. It’s a huge sound from so few elements.
When they were done recording, Farmelo called his friend Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Ros) for final mastering in Iceland. “That is such a beautiful record,” says Sigurðsson.
The minimalist production of the album allows Graph Rabbit to perform it live with just two, sometimes three, members. Kedmi, a classically trained pianist, deftly commands the intriguing analog Pocket Piano rig. “It was decided early on that there would be no computers in this band because they just steal the performance aspects, especially the possibility of variation and mistakes,” says Kedmi. Donohue adds, “Yeah, and it always looks like someone is checking Facebook on stage.”
For their live set Graph Rabbit currently plays Snowblind’s eight songs front to back, and there is no between-song banter to disrupt the album’s narrative. “It’s a bit of a tightrope walk,” Donohue admits, “but it’s the only way to bring the other world we’ve created into the room and keep it there.”
The first sound we hear is a warbling, minor key synth arpeggio that opens the first track, “My Name.” Fittingly disorienting, Donohue’s confidently finger-picked guitar enters in an unexpected rhythmic division of the arpeggio, which in turn begins to echo slightly out of time. By track three, “Butterscotch,” the guitar is gone as the Pocket Pianos pulse manically, sleigh bells slash through the soundscape and Donohue sings the haunting opening line, “I watch my blood spill like butterscotch.” Onward through the snowscape the character finally makes a kind of reconciliation with this world on the standout track (and first single) “Only Fields.” From within the evocative, blurry music Donohue side-steps Bob Dylan’s nagging question with his own chorus: “if you ask me how it feels / there’s no answer / only fields.”
Snowblindness is an actual medical condition caused by over exposure to sunlight in snowy fields; it’s symptoms include hazy vision and halos. With this concept, Graph Rabbit are taking the blank stares of their formative decade’s tuned-out space-cadets like J. Mascis and Cobain to a Zen-like extreme.
To drive the point home, the album closes with an instrumental called “Whiteout” in which a Drake-esque guitar pattern, an insistent synth arpeggio and slowly churning sleigh bells are assailed by swoops of white noise. It’s as if the music is trying to erase itself while Graph Rabbit goes for a total whiteout.
Praise for Snowblind
— BBC RADIO
“Graph Rabbit has a steadfast beauty.”
“Could Graph Rabbit’s [song] ‘Only Fields’ possibly be any prettier?”
— TALK ROCK TO ME