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Homespun: Ptarmigan, The Forest Darling

Make no mistake: The Columbia, Missouri, trio Ptarmigan has made a fine album of dreamy pop music that's well-suited for a warm summer evening. But no matter how great the album is, the music on the disc isn't nearly as interesting as the story behind how it came to be. In an interview posted on the Riverfront Times' music blog, guitarist and singer Peter Marting described how his master's work in insect communication led him to the Peruvian rainforest for several months. While there, Marting made field recordings of birds, tortoises and, of course, the rubbed-together appendages of various insects. Even if St. Louis' current cicada infestation has rattled your brain, Ptarmigan's artful use of insect chatter gives a nice, rhythmic textures to the melodic pop on the disc. The strummy, folksy "Delta" resolves with a coda of rickety upright piano flourishes, while a choir of winged creatures fills in the rest.

The Forest Darling benefits from this ambient noise but doesn't lean on it as a shtick; instead, the band's sugary, rubbery hooks recall the blissed-out sunbursts of Tripping Daisy and mid-period Flaming Lips, with Marting's elastic vocals drawing focus. "We, the Forest" begins like a sleepy dirge before pneumatic guitar chords and doubled vocals propel the song toward the treetops. The mood of the record isn't all sunshine and light, though — "My Mind Bleeds" brings in a darker palette and a more pronounced thumbprint of bands like Built to Spill and Modest Mouse. A more dramatic arc wraps the album on a high note, with the piano-led "Migratory" and the dissonant dance-punk of "Metronome" giving weighted counterpoint to the earlier pure-pop tunes.

 
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