[RATTLED FOLK] Song From Far begins exactly as that: a quiet cacophony of atmospheric rustling that sounds like faraway spirits tuning their collective voice. Very soon, the drifting experimentalism gives way to rich instrumentation, and the opening title track finds its folky stride. Such is the dichotomy at play with local quartet Grand Lake Islands, at once hazy and celestial as well as grounded in an ironclad folk-rock tradition.
Part of the haze is owed to frontman Erik Emanuelson's quaking vocals. He's a low-def Jim James—scratchy, distant and unpredictable. Emanuelson brought the makings of his first EP with him when he moved from New York in 2012 and built the band around it. Song From Far is Grand Lake Island's first full-length, created entirely in Portland. On "Warm Keeping," he reflects on the journey: "In the East/You're always dreaming about the Wild West." Abetted by the song's soft shuffle, Emanuelson sounds pensive, nervous even. Ghosts—of past relationships, of cities once lived in—quite literally haunt the album, whether through foggy pedal steel or splintery vocals weaving in and out of rootsy melodies. That's nothing new, of course: Countless bands play through such things. What's great about Song From Far is that you don't get just the neatly packaged retrospection: You get to experience the whole coping process.
SEE IT: Grand Lake Islands plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Future Historians and Jackson Boone, on Sunday, Feb. 15. 8 pm. $7. 21+.