[FOLK-POP] Gena Gastaldi’s songs speak—or rather sing—to Portlanders. Like many of this city’s residents, Gastaldi is a transplant. The creative force behind Day of Lions, she moved from Alaska in 2004, and the folkstress has been crafting lovely, subdued folk songs with a rotating cast of musicians ever since.
But that cast has been solidified on Day of Lions’ full-length debut, Come Down From the Mountain, thanks to four new members, including guitarist Blake Hooper and fellow transplant, drummer Charlie Hester. Hester relocated from Los Angeles to join the band—and also because he’s Gastaldi’s fiancé.
Aptly, Come Down embodies the Portland transplant’s story: The driving force is distance; the great drama is isolation. On the title track, Gastaldi sings, “I know that things are rough/ And the paycheck never’s enough,” speaking to the city’s newest residents. Later, she sings of tall grass on “Sauvie Island” and warm weather on “Summertime,” admiring two of Portland’s best features.
And, much like transplants themselves, Gastaldi’s songs ache for stability. With her level vocals—which often channel Bachelor No. 2-era Aimee Mann—she expresses a condemnation of the road that “once held so lovingly” on “Oh the Miles, Oh the Road.” Her previously long-distance relationship with Hester is revealed on the same track, where Gastaldi mourns, “It’s so unfair that so many are in this town/ But not one compares to you.” The album even contains a song titled “My Man Is So Far Away.” (You can guess the subject.)
Much as the addition of four bandmates rounds out Day of Lions’ sound, Hester’s relocation has changed the tone of Gastaldi’s music. Yes, her themes are influenced by the difficulty of their LDR, but about half of Come Down also seems happier, almost more cheerful, than Gastaldi’s self-released solo work. Her already smooth, balanced voice becomes even more one-dimensional, lacking the dramatic vocal push-and-pull of earlier songs like aching ballad “Fireplace.”
This once melancholy singer-songwriter now writes as if she’s quietly smiling to herself. Carefree jaunt “Summertime,” for instance, contains positively hopeful lyrics: “I just want to listen to some rock and roll/ Turn up the station till the speakers blow/ Sing the night away.”
That’s not to say Come Down isn’t a touching album: Gastaldi writes poetic lyrics, and her songs’ soft instrumentals: swelling strings, subtle bass lines and delicate drums, grow more familiar with every turn. But her new, upbeat style lacks the penetrating quality of her sadder songs—the price of Gastaldi finding the stability she so desperately longed for.
SEE IT: Day of Lions celebrates the release of Come Down From the Mountain Tuesday, March 18, with Dolorean and Eskimo & Sons at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $7. 21+.