Autumn + Colour Records, 2012
Fans of modern folk acts like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and My Morning Jacket, take note. Summer, Hither, a new EP from the Atlanta-based (and amusingly named) Sleepy Turtles. Right from the first song, the harmony-drenched title track, it's clear that these guys owe a lot to similar bands who have blazed a similar trail in recent years. But while their sound may not be terribly distinctive, it's still as appealing as ever, and Summer, Hither, standing at a short-but-sweet five tracks and twenty minutes, is a more than promising career-starter. The harmonies prove to be the norm throughout the EP, surrounding frontman Dylan Higgins' soft and welcoming croon with a sweet swell of sonic bliss. The instrumentation adds another dimension, with softly strummed acoustics, nostalgic banjo plucking, and occasional flourishes of electric and steel guitar. Mostly though, Summer, Hither plays things straight, offering up five quick (and stupendously enjoyable) tracks of traditional folk that straddles the line between Americana and Appalachian heritage.
But that's not to call the Sleepy Turtles limited. Where the first three tracks dwell in a similar sunsoaked, acoustic vein (befitting the album's title), "Reason to Hope" throws a wrench into the machine, twisting in a haunting and apocalyptic web that is certain to enrapture many a listener. Higgins sounds like a cross between Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody and modern folk hero Sam Beam here, and the song's evocative and elegiac plucking wouldn't have been out of place on an early Iron & Wine album: it's an instant highlight, but then, with five tracks this good, nothing falls out of context. Closer "Being Small" kicks off in a decidedly simpler and gentler vein, just a single guitar and Higgins' voice, before the song begins to build. Mandolin strokes add subtly to the texture as an ensemble of singers begins to gather around the song's melody. Drums and handclaps enter only seconds later, with competing vocal lines combining for a communal and classic folk sound that ends only just as the song is nearing sublime territory. It's a jarring finale to a musical project that, from the first song, feels like it should be a piece of something larger. And perhaps it will be: with the massive popularity that their influences have gained in recent years, perhaps the Sleepy Turtles will be able to make an impression: they certainly have the talent.
There's not a lot else to say here: these guys do what they do and they do it very well. There's not a weak song in the bunch, and, despite the fact that the collection never adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts (I find that EPs rarely do, for me), that's hardly a mark against its pleasant, dusky lilt. Higgins is a collection of his idols, sounding like a clone of Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold at the start, and hitting upon shades of guys like Dallas Greene (City & Colour) and William Fitzsimmons before ultimately settling on Iron & Wine for the final two tracks. But while Sleepy Turtles don't really make an attempt to strike out on their own or reinvent the wheel like Bon Iver did last summer, the songs are good enough for it not to matter, and any folk fan should be more than willing to spend the twenty minutes it will take to check these guys out. Sleepy Turtles are a band to watch for on the folk horizon, and I am excited to see where they go from here. If the near-epic ambition that "Reason to Hope" hints at is anything to go by, this is a band who would be far more at home in a full album setting, with room for their arrangements to expand and their songs to breathe. If given that opportunity (preferably sooner rather than later), I think they could have something really breathtaking to offer; I'll be keeping close tabs on them to see if they can make good on that promise.