Everyone in Vermont knows how it goes. There comes a point, usually sometime in late January, when the glow of the snow at night stops being beautiful. Winter becomes an antagonist, a jailer. You shut yourself off and stay in shelter, eventually ruminating on other times you felt this miserable.
It only takes a few listens to the self-titled debut from Burlington's Luther to feel little premonitions of those isolations. A sort of solo project from Noah Crowther (Waylon Speed), the six-song EP sounds like it was exhaled in a puff of frozen breath and cigarette smoke.
On the album cover, Crowther sits on a couch covered with a multicolored crocheted afghan. Photographs surround him, suggesting the very memories and complex feelings of love, hate and even dread that he sings about on the record. He seems for all the world like a man ready to get some things off his mind, things he's been chewing on indoors for a while.
The music doesn't quite maintain the same continuity of theme, though. Luther is composed of some of the Green Mountains' finest musicians and producers: Crowther's brother, Justin, and their Waylon Speed bandmate Chad Hammaker, along with Brian Granfors, Ben Collette and Rob O'Dea. And they sound pristine. But the EP struggles to find a consistent feel.
Maybe it's the reminiscent nature of the songs, but at times Luther seems too passive. "All That We Want," a sweet missive on love surrounded by less happy songs, has a cool little clockwork beat chorus punctuated by staccato guitar stabs. But with oversimplified lyrics such as "You are the one for me, can't you see," this train doesn't quite reach the station.
"Tucson" opens with a laid-back octave guitar run and features some of the EP's stronger lyrics. "All is lost, except for the way we fall," Crowther sings over a Wildflowers-era Tom Petty slow burn. Ostensibly the song is about defeat, but the band leaves room for a comeback with swirling organ and an anthemic guitar solo.
After the aptly named "Pickup," which suffers from the same lethargy "All That We Want" couldn't quite shake, Luther takes a promising foray into more country-like settings with "Bad Smoking Seat." It ends with a belated surge on "In the End," a rocker about a late family dog. Luther are finally shaken out of their frostbitten restraint, yet the song maintains some of that overarching melancholy.
In the album's liner notes, Crowther writes that the recording was "an exercise in letting things be what they are." That sometimes works for and against Luther. For all the record's charms, it could sometimes use a push off from familiar shores into murkier waters.
Luther by Luther is available at Pure Pop, Burlington Records and online at luther3.bandcamp.com. Proceeds from the album benefit the Champlain Elementary School Record Project.