Whatever the trio of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan comprising I’m with Her have done to create a buzz about themselves while concealing their origins, it has certainly worked, because I can’t find them on Bandcamp or Soundcloud (didn’t check the ever-waning Wikipedia). They’ve already attracted a review from NPR, for instance, after achieving the privilege of using Peter Gabriel’s studio Real World over in bloody Bath (whereas again they oddly don’t sound British). They bill themselves on their web page as a “female folk trio” but then enlist a male producer, Ethan Johns, for this album (I’ve actually never heard of a female producer).
I guess part of why it’s irksome to me that they call themselves a “female trio” is that indeed this is a very well-produced album. It’s its initial moments, in particular, that are innovative, like the sampled and muffled string undulations which kick things off, and the pristine David Gilmour type of guitar sound which then establishes the primary groove, in zig-zagging riff form. Basically, the project then devolves into a sort of training-wheels version of Mumford & Sons (which is actually preferable to Mumford & Sons to me), in true folk form offering lyrics as its main draw, delivered by some often delightful background vocals.
The ways in which See You around is innovative, you might say, are more gender-borne than they are musical. That is, I used to listen to music routinely that was a lot like this, namely the Lonesome Sisters and First Aid Kit, but I’ve never before gotten such a keen vibe that the group at hand is trying to assemble an adamant vibe of femaleness. None of these songs, for one thing, seem to mention romance as a key factor in their genesis — rather, they seem to sort of ache along with the entire world and deliver universal messages such as “You’ve got to be game to lose” and “You’ve got a story / A dotted line / …Ain’t that fine”. To the project’s credit, then, the impetus behind the music seems to be especially noble, rather than some cathartic emotional realm like a relationship breakup dictating the whole thing.
Ok I THINK the song title “I-89” should mean that I’m with Her is from somewhere on the East Coast of the United States of AMERICAS, since given that this is their first full album it’s unlikely that they’ve ever done a foreign tour, and also per the phenomenon that we’re far more likely to write about what’s near and familiar to us (making interesting the concept of Audioslave’s song “I am the Highway,” of course). So here is where these girls’ incredibly distanced and objective knack starts to hamper the music a little bit, because with this steady-faced perspective, the emotion really isn’t there with this particular local color scheme of “I-89,” and again the technical texture is the best part of the song. “I-89” begins with a modicum of guitar riff cloaked in this impossibly thick but mellow reverb sounding a little bit if anything like the Pavement tomfoolery in those little re-release interludes “Sordid” and “Sentinel.” And it’s not that it doesn’t go with the music, that’s not the problem — but when these women come in singing the whole thing just seems so copied, or POSTURED, not really the progenitor of any new style, as if being a “folk trio” were something scientific to measure up to, rather than the mark of a purposeful metaphysical vision. But again, the album has many feathers in its cap, such as technical vocal skill, production and organization.