Scattered Trees and the Alternate Routes

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Editorial Review

SCATTERED TREES
Album review: "Sympathy"

Loss is not an uncommon source of inspiration for songwriters, and Scattered Trees frontman Nate Eiesland wrote the group's latest, "Sympathy," after the death of his father.

The event had an impact on the band as well, pulling it out of a hiatus to record, but that detail is more of an interesting footnote than crucial insight into a group that's mostly unknown outside of its hometown of Chicago.

Luckily, the album's back story doesn't overpower the songs; these are sad tunes, but Eiesland manages to sound more reflective than mopey.

On album-opening track "Bury the Floors," his voice is backed by the drone of synths and his bandmates' humming. The effect is both somber and warm, providing a supportive solidarity around Eiesland's plaintive croon.

Scattered Trees picks up the pace mid-album: "Four Days Straight" is so up-tempo that it almost becomes a dance track with a hand-clapped rhythm and soaring yelps. But most of "Sympathy" sticks with a pensive tone. The sparse arrangement and tender harmonies on "Five Minutes" accentuate the song's elasticity and fragility, while Eiesland's gentle voice conjures a melancholy mood on the title track.

The album ends with the acoustic "On Your Side," a reflective (if unsurprising) way to close such a somber set of songs.

--Catherine P. Lewis, Aug. 12, 2011