With its deep, deliberate beat and hushed group vocals, “Black Willow” floats into my ears like a visitation from a different, unsettling, yet somehow more benevolent dimension.
Listen to how the almost uncomfortable slowness of the groove is soon counteracted by the solace of the humming voices that rise up at 0:14. When the words start, 10 or so seconds later, they engage us with one of the most tantalizing words with which to begin a song: “Because.” The opening verse, in fact, delivers a series of “Because…” statements, which deftly engage the ear for the mystery implicit in an answer delivered without a question.
And talk about implicit mystery!: listen to what the sound of voices singing the same note brings up for you. It may take a while for this to register but there are no harmonies here, just a group of voices (two, maybe three) singing directly on the melody, all the way through. To me, this feels counter-intuitively enigmatic. Another moment of satisfying elusiveness is the soupçon of time-signature shifting that happens a couple of times (first at 1:20), which registers as a subtle hiccup, a passing “what was that?” moment in a song otherwise measured and resolute.
The song is grounded musically by the bass and the drums, with well-placed keyboard fills offering some counter-balancing brightness. A windswept synth sound is added at a lyrically opportune time (“I make a home inside the wind”; 2:28). And then check out how the voices themselves transmute into something wind-like at around 3:13. This leads us to the song’s delayed, haunting chorus, featuring the title repeated over and over, while the voices, at the end of each repetition, morph increasingly into the echoey, windy soundscape.
Loma is a band that seems to have begun inadvertently, when Shearwater front man Jonathan Meiburg was so taken with the music made by the Texas duo Cross Record (Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski), opening for Shearwater on a tour, that the three of them began playing together. Adding to the depth of the experience: Cross and Duszynski’s marriage was disintegrating when the three of them were writing and recording the music that would become Loma’s self-titled debut album. “Black Willow” is the tenth and last track on the record, which was released last month on Sub Pop. MP3 again via KEXP.