I encountered The Finches by accident a couple of years ago. My friend Dan had begun booking bands semi-regularly at Adobe Books on 16th Street in connection with art openings in their tiny gallery space in the back of the bookstore. One of the shows he put together featured the San Francisco two-piece sharing the bill with another good friend and former band mate of mine, who was making his solo debut. In a small space, roughly in the center of the long narrow shop lined with bookshelves, a vintage PA was set up for the bands. My girlfriend and I joined the crowd of people cramped between the books to watch my friend perform. After his short set, Aaron Morgan and Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs picked up their acoustic guitars, introduced themselves as The Finches and began playing.
I might be revealing myself as somewhat of a cynic but the idea of a boy-girl acoustic duo is not normally my musical cup of tea. I am all for people picking up instruments and expressing themselves, believing that those that do usually create something interesting, which is most often manifested as -- at worst -- personally revealing and -- at best -- musically innovative. But acoustic performers and the "café folk" they often write and perform are a rather large exception to that rule, occupying the same kind of cultural territory for me as poets or biker gangse. I am more forgiving of punky rackets than juvenile laments warbled and plucked while sitting on a stool.
Watching and listening to The Finches' six song performance, punctuated by comfortable humor and a few false starts, I was captivated -- despite myself. The melodies were simple and plaintive, percolating under Carolyn Pennypacker's sweet and slightly haunting voice. The songs were slight, urban stories undercut with a rustic naturalism implied by their style, instrumentation, and even the band's name. The Finches reminded me of the delicate beauty of The Marine Girls, Lois Maffeo's solo albums and The Softies while avoiding cutesy preciousness.
I've seen the band a few times since that first show and followed their story, which includes the release of an EP called simply Six Songs and at the end of this month, the release of The Finches' first full-length album, Human Like A House on Dulc-I-Tone Records. The 12-song album was recorded by Aaron Morgan's father, includes cover artwork by Pennypacker and actually features background vocals by both members' mothers. My own favorite song so far is the title track, "Human Like A House" with its slow waltz time and Pennypacker singing "by the bridge I'd like to stay, by the ocean, by the bay" of San Francisco, to which she adds "and hope that you'll come around."
The Finches leave town this month on a tour to support the release of their album and I am charmed by the idea of the long drives, house parties, small clubs and record stores that will play host to them before, like migrating birds they return home for spring...