Album Review – Measure Once, Cut Twice (Treehouse Letters)

“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.

Lucid Safari @ Collies & Co. 30/10/2021

Collies and Co. is a café in Samford Village (with resident Border Collie and puppies) who recently hosted a morning of original live music, as part of the Moreton Bay Live and Local project. We were lucky enough to catch Lucid Safari, a new reggae-rock project fronted by Brisbane musician Daniel J. Lewis.

Let’s start with the fourth song – Lady – which lands November 18 (pre-save now!) and is a good showcase of the genre-mix the guys have got going on. Here is my internal dialogue – “it is definitely reggae, unmistakably, but am I hearing hints of Pink Floyd (Live at Pompeii era)?? Hold that thought – is it Ocean Alley? Sticky Fingers?” It’s a great combination of all these things – as advertised, Lucid Safari deliver a costal-reggae-vibe that is all their own.

Till the End takes the second spot on the set list delivering a smooth, driving reggae feel and I am there with them – cruising in a top-down convertible! Flickering Lights and Liquid Dreams roll into each other with Dan and guitarist Braeden Hall (who joined the band two days prior – you wouldn’t know it!) stacking the Stratocaster tones, as they wrap rhythm and counter-melody around the classic off-beat grooves. Drummer DJ brings home Liquid Dreams with an all-out punk beat and, before I know it, we’re into a slick cover of Arctic Monkeys’ Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? (with a reggae twist).

Later in the set, Always On My Mind, takes a slower approach before Sunshine and Fever Dream pick it up again. By now, I’m settled in – no more analysis and comparison – just enjoying the Lucid Safari show (but maybe some solid riff passages à la Osaka Punch through this section??).

I caught up with frontman Dan after the set and realised what I’d just heard was his heart and soul – the sound he wants to be known for. Following an epiphany in the spring of 2019, Dan honed in on this idea.  He wrote set-opener – Walking Free – the very next day (and the rest is history!).

Today at Collies and Co. Dan and Braeden are joined by DJ and bass man Shane Kumar (also a new arrival). DJ keeps it impeccably “in the pocket” and Shane reinforces the low-end with confident, inventive bass lines, beautifully locked into the rhythm.

Their penultimate song is a confident cover of Ocean Alley’s Confidence, before original tune Delirium – the title track of their forthcoming EP (coming early ’22).

In between each song Dan keeps you engaged; Shane and DJ always in the pocket (oh I already mentioned that, well damn it needs to be said again) and Braeden only two days old in the Lucid Safari world; this is obviously a well-oiled machine and well worth a place on your list of local bands to see. Their website proclaims “bringing good vibes, immersive grooves and catchy hooks, Lucid Safari has the crowd in-step to their offbeat flow” and we can heartily endorse this message.

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