Album: Deer Scout – Woodpecker review

by Craig Howieson

A deeply personal record that paints a portrait of America’s torn heart

Deer Scout’s Dana Miller describes her approach to songwriting as ‘a process of boxing things up, or putting away a time capsule.’ It makes sense then that the alternative folk songs found on her debut record, Woodpecker, are graced with the often warming – sometimes uncomfortable – nostalgia of a past that is not too far behind.

Against the trembling quiver of country arpeggios on opener, Cup, Miller sings, ‘I can’t shake a feeling I don’t know the name of.’ It is an arresting line that underpins the themes of uncertainty and confusion that flow through the record, and through life. On Peace with the Damage, written by her father, Mark, Miller adds her voice to the question of how and why we hurt those we love, and the consequences we must live with. In doing so shakes the foundations of beliefs we choose to base our lives on.

A former touring buddy of Katie Crutchfield, there are certainly parallels to draw with the intimacy and vocal stylings of the first two Waxahatchee records, but it only adds to the comforting familiarity that already exists in Miller’s writing. These are songs one might imagine featuring on an early Bright Eyes’ release had Oberst’s love affair with Americana come a decade earlier. And there might be those who mistake the album’s pared back nature for a lo-fi aesthetic, but it is anything but. The record is both live, and alive sounding, vibrating its message from years spent honing her craft and surrounding herself with collaborators and contributors who read from the same page.

An at times deeply personal record that still manages to paint a portrait of America’s torn heart, Woodpecker deserves its place among the great debuts of her peers. ‘In my dream everyone leaves us alone,’ Miller sings on Dream. It is something which we all wish for at times: to hide away from a world, or past, we would rather not face. And for its fleeting duration, Woodpecker can be that much needed time alone.

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