Big Tree has a big sound and their newest E.P. My, How You've Grown delivers. Shimmering moments are followed by powerful crescendos. Their arrangements feel Californian but in a way that is unique to the Bay Area, not in a Los Angeles' Best Coast or Fleetwood Mac kind of way, recalling a little more funk and a lot more folk. Big Tree releases the E.P., My, How You've Grown at Bottom of the Hill on Saturday September 14.
My, How You've Grown is compact with four short and sweet songs -- each layered with care -- showcasing the band's diverse talents. Percussion generates a pattern allowing the electric guitar and supporting vocals to come in and out of focus. The bass lines are unique and hard to pinpoint often morphing from a funk line into a vivacious flurry. When lead singer Kaila McIntyre-Bader sings it's like a football team rushing the field before the start of the game, tearing through a paper wall surrounded by screaming fans. This force waxes and wanes throughout the record, but should you get lost just follow her voice back to the party.
The opening track, "Believe" is whimsical with lyrics like, "I've got tricks up my sleeve, you've got dirt on your knees. Once in a while it's true we smile, even when there's nothing to see. Believe." This introduction to the record gives a taste of what to expect with a deliberate build cascading down crashing symbols and echoey calls. That escalation leads right into "Wonder," the single on My, How You've Grown. The lyrics provide direction with a certain sense of urgency and order, "Stop, make the sound you want to hear. Smile because the world can smell your fear. Breathe because you know that I'm right here." This song has a folky groove, and McIntyre-Bader's vocals are bold and brash, but beautiful, backed by pop melodies and bright harmonies. It's refreshing to hear a female vocalist really belt it, like Kimbra or Adele. McIntyre-Bader knows how to get behind the funk without overpowering the band.
While the old Bay Bridge was being retired and the new one set in place I visited with Big Tree in Berkeley to talk about the new project. When I asked what kind of music they were trying to make McIntyre-Bader replied, "We've always just tried to take a pop song and make it a little bit weirder." The band all chuckled but nodded with succinct agreement. She continued, "I write sort of simple poppy tunes and then we basically ask how can we make it unique and use everyone's abilities to make it really layered." There are a lot of folds in their songs that are easy to pick up on, no member of the band is lost to another. Big Tree's cacophony is so uniquely divergent I had to ask about inspirations, and learned that the members' taste covered even the most obscure genres on the music spectrum, but one band in particular they all agreed on was Akron/Family. Their sound is quite different, but the influence can be heard in the song structures. Like Akron/Family, Big Tree plays with vocal uptakes and cleverly timed hooks that build until each member of the band is playing and singing their hardest. My, How You've Grown is a confident E.P. expressing the excitement and disbelief that comes from the knowledge that even adults don't have it all figured out, and that's OK.
The band is five strong with Kaila McIntyre-Bader writing and singing, Luke Bace on bass, Danny Pirello on guitar, Anna Ghezzi on vocals and glockenspiel, and Matt Schory banging away on the drums. The core members met while in school at Sarah Lawrence and after many years in New York decided to head west, filling out their current lineup along the way. They landed in Berkeley and have called it home since 2012. The band's past albums have explored notions of travel and growth with tunes focusing on the beauty of uncertainty. This E.P. delves into the bliss of being more settled as the band enters into the next phase in California.
Big Tree's record release party is at Bottom of the Hill TONIGHT, Saturday, September 14, 2013. For tickets and information, visit bottomofthehill.com.