Album: Valley Maker – When The Day Leaves review

by Chris Hatch

A document of both resignation and rebirth. A mournful lamentation on the state of modern America, and a tentative realisation that you don’t need to solve the puzzle – you just have to make a start

Tilling the soil on both a spiritual and physical level (songwriter Austin Crane recently moved back to South Carolina where he and his wife took on the task of renovating a dilapidated home), When The Day Leaves melds the wandering looseness of Kurt Vile with the thematic purpose and focus of mid-era Bright Eyes. There’s a sagacity to the classic, confident Americana of Crane’s songwriting that is at odds with the uncertainty he feels in his lyrics – an imbalance that he seeks to level out as the record unfolds.

Album opener, Branch I Bend, sets Crane’s stall out early. His voice like dry, dust-covered reeds rustled by Amy Godwin’s rich, inventive harmonies – they play out against shuffling percussion and softly twanging Southern guitars. ‘Hold on, decade, don’t decay,’ he sings in the third verse – ‘Everything I know rests in your shade/Child that I was, birth remains/All in a day’s work’ – an early marker of the recurring themes of the passing of time and the bonds of family that wind their way through the record.

 As the album unfolds, so too does Crane’s mastery of his genre – No One Is Missing and Lines Erasing have a sweeping, Sandy (Alex G) swing, while Mockingbird and Voice Inside The Well float by like songs passed down through generations. His deft fingerpicked guitars are often joined by flourishing horns and subtle percussion, but it’s the harmonies of Amy Godwin that add a velvety mysticism to the record – soothing and palliative one moment, haunting and ghostly the next, fading off into the background, they lull you deep into the back of the mix. You follow the threads she leaves and get lost in the space between her and Crane’s voice.

When The Day Leaves is a magnificent album, and one that changes and moves with each listen. At times, Crane’s anger and regret bubble to the surface; at others his sorrowful malaise colours the record. There are lyrical motifs and hidden melodies, and harmonies that only surface after multiple listens. But even on this beautifully shifting record, there’s one thing that stays the same – the staggering, emotional hit that comes with album-closer and title track, When The Day Leaves. A song that sees Crane searching for the positives and finding them in the things closest to him – ‘Now the border checkpoints, the rifles, the politician jackals/Eat themselves, they laugh at forgiveness/Well I was not prepared for your daughter to visit/There’s a strength in her life that defeats all their bullshit,’ he sings in hushed defiance.

It’s the sprawling, concluding verse that sees Crane finally find some happiness and balance – ‘I was not prepared for the real living beauty sleeping in everything to wake up and undo me/With the stars in the sky when the birds all surround me in their fractured patterns, they cry while their laughing/Now I’m walking with you it’s precisely when the weight leaves, and I’m floating, knowing the puzzle is not changing/And I wait there.’

Freed from the tethers that have been holding him down, a weight lifted, you feel yourself float away with him. A beautiful, must-listen record.

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