This one starts in tentative, noodly mode—just a guy testing out some interesting acoustic guitar chords. The first time I heard this, I’m all “When’s the song starting?” Second time, too. When I finally absorbed the idea that okay, this one just isn’t in a hurry, it was almost a magical transformation. Rather than being impatient for the song to begin, I realized the song had in fact begun, right there in this deliberate, exquisitely recorded introduction. I have no idea how Bjarke Bendtsen, doing musical business as The Migrant, knew that “2811 California Street” had to start this way, but now I’m right there with him. This is how the song has to start.
Forty seconds or so in, he puts the chords he had tested out into a rhythmic strum, over some elusive background percussion. Volume builds, and tension. The cymbal swell around 1:20 is first the climax and then the release that delivers us into the body of the song, via an opening melodic motif that is both simple and riveting—a figure that climbs first up and then two-thirds of the way back down using mostly accidentals, or what on a keyboard would be the black keys. This unassuming melody, first heard between 1:25 and 1:30, part upward yearning, part downward reassessment, becomes the song’s recurring anchor. The structure is otherwise ambiguous, and entirely secondary to the sonic textures on which Bendtsen builds the song, blending guitar, strings, percussion, and voice into something rich and memorable. Listen, for instance, to the substance offered by the entry of the strings around 2:26, how they seem to lift the sound into a new place with their simple rhythmic momentum. Later on they give us a quartet-like interlude, leading us to the culminating iterations of the central melody, delivered this last time without any words at all.
Bendtsen recorded his first album as The Migrant in 2010, after spending a few years traveling around the U.S. with a guitar, with a home base in Texas. “2811 California Street” is a song from Amerika, album number two for The Migrant, self-released at the end of October. The Migrant
was previously featured on Fingertips in September 2010.