The timing couldn't be worse for A Weather. Their brilliant and gloomy debut album of slouched-shoulder, hushed folk is set to see the light of day—during, well, the light of the day. The record, Cove, is the sound of another monochromatic Portland winter of rain-streaked windows and that permeating feeling that—no matter what you do—you'll never be warm or dry. But the music industry calendar knows not of our gray winters, so Cove was in stores last month, and its release is celebrated this week, just as the winter burns off and summer waits on the horizon.
Granted, weather patterns and meteorologists should not be consulted before an album's release, but A Weather thrives in the gloomiest of conditions. This is winter music, and to declare this blunt emotional slab of quiet folk anything else is an act of immeasurable optimism. The band—five of them in all—is primarily known for the quaint story of how a pair of sad-sack, but utterly charming singers (the soft-throated Aaron Gerber and the smoky-voiced Sarah Winchester) came together with friends, made some demos, played some shows, and suddenly caught the ear of one Conor Oberst, who inked the band to his Team Love label. If the past has taught us anything, it's that unknown bands with zero connections who sing in soft voices that beg to be cloaked in bar-side chatter at live performances aren't likely to last too long, and especially aren't the type to woo a proven voice like Oberst. But A Weather did, and the result of this tender courtship is Cove.
It's hard not to cling to every word that passes through the pursed lips of Gerber and Winchester, their delicate delivery saddling each passing lyric with a heightened sense of importance. No whisper is wasted as the duo establishes a poetic balance between the bittersweet, the sullen, and the introspective. But if the sheer level of personal emotion and intimate bedroom murmurs are too much to bear, and you fear your level of interest in the band leans toward voyeurism, Gerber assures us that his words don't travel straight from his diary to the lyric book.
"Our style of singing creates an illusion of truth. In the lyrics there are little jokey things that end up not sounding like jokes because of our delivery." Gerber concludes, "But I never feel like I reveal too much."
Winchester, on the other hand, handles her role as co-vocalist by removing herself entirely from the process. "When I think about my parts, I get really critical. So I imagine that it's someone else singing instead." She explains, "I have this vision of Aaron walking down the street singing and there's this red-headed woman singing my parts. And that helps me be more objective about it."
"Hanging Towers of Baltimore" is a welcome expansion of the band's cozy sound, bouncing along at a pace similar to a rambling, pre-Islam Cat Stevens, or Paul Simon in his There Goes Rhymin' Simon days. But Cove's mightiest moment is the shuffling ballad "Pinky Toe," which is rich with descriptive prose about getting "banged up like a pinky toe," and best accentuates the natural vocal interplay of Winchester and Gerber, as they echo, in one grand final refrain, that "no one should be alone/no one, no one..." before fading out entirely.