“Measure Once, Cut Twice” is the debut album from Brisbane piano-guitar duo, Treehouse Letters. Ten tracks of beauty, sadness, hope and yearning; the mostly unadorned guitar-piano arrangements leave these feelings unmuted and close to the surface.
Treehouse Letters is Dominic Pinzone (guitar and vocals) and Ethan Butler (piano and vocals). A dig through Spotify reveals a 2019 self-titled EP, and the band have released two advance tracks from the album – Wake Up Mary in August and Fall to the Ground in November, via a delightful hand-drawn animated music video.
This is a great place to start – Fall to the Ground opens the album, perfectly expressing a complex “resigned-but-still-hopeful-sadness” in the opening piano phrase. The band claim Bob Dylan and Paul Kelly as influences but, for me, the shape of the verse melodies and the richness of the lead vocal bring Elton John to mind, in the best way. Lyrically ambiguous but allusions to death and burial bring a slight chill, as the song reveals itself. These themes reappear, and more overtly, later in the album (the beautifully harmonised, spiritual-tinged Be Here Now) but whether death is the literal subject or a metaphor is a puzzle I haven’t cracked yet (nor the meaning of the album title, for that matter).
I’m a bit obsessed with the second spot in a track listing – the position of choice for so many sleeper hits (Counting Crows – Omaha, R.E.M. – Try Not to Breathe, Radiohead – The Bends… I could go on.). Which is why a slow-burn piano instrumental (Is Your Affliction Dear to You?) is such a brave and interesting choice here. Taking the yearning of the first track to deeper levels, it becomes an overture for the album – almost a reset after the first track, allowing the listener a chance to get lost in reflection and the mental images that are conjured up (for me – a lazy afternoon, sunshine, nothing is wrong but vague dissatisfaction hangs).
Throughout the album, beautifully crafted light jazz piano interludes punctuate verses and choruses, and this is a real strength of the arrangements – lightening up the mood at times, where the song content goes into heavier or more thoughtful territory. It’s a great balancing act – an emotional push-and-pull; light and shade that extends my appetite for the music. See Track 3 (Lovely) for a case in point but there are lots of great examples.
In the fairly infrequent moments when there is obvious use of layering, this is again thoughtfully and effectively done (Lovely – again – and Track 8 How Do You Like It? are good examples). I’m torn on this – I would like to hear more layers of voices and instruments and a “bigger” sound but the simple arrangement is central to what works about the album. Another balancing act, and again they have struck a good mix.
Other quick shout-outs for lead single Wake Up Mary, with beautiful guest vocals from Brisbane singer Ebony Walker and country stomper Silver Town – probably my favourite but that’s a hard call. It’s got a great energy!
“Measure One, Cut Twice” lands Feb 20 on streaming platforms and you can (and should!) pre-save it now. Have a listen and look out for a show – Treehouse Letters are well worth a look.