There are a few things that I expect from a folk album: the bob and sway that accompanies a strummed chord progression on an acoustic guitar, sober tone buoyed by lightness, and heartfelt lyrics. Sometimes folk will drift into other avenues: large instrumentals, drum machines, hard rock interludes, and other digressions that can distract the listener from the message of the music. When I got my hands on the self-titled EP by Dear Indugu, my ears took in a lot of what I expected and plenty of the unexpected.
The Oakland-based quartet takes many of the building blocks of folk and turns it on its head. In the opening, Jesse Strickman serves up a plate of the basics: light fingerpicking across an acoustic guitar that give way to bouncing chords, soft vocals that accentuate the wistful lyrics under the backdrop of falling rain. They give way to Josh Owings’ bluesy guitar solo, gentle yet crashing percussion by Chris Nishimoto, and ending with a muddy little ditty by bassist Van Jackson-Weaver.
The first track sets a tone that is then deviated from on each subsequent one. But unlike contemporaries that make their sound way too big with electronics or fifty of their closest classic music enthusiasts, Dear Indugu doesn’t waste time on who is first chair cellist, or if a programmed drum beat is slightly off tempo. They throw in some plugged-in alt-rock with a blend of pop that creates a sincere sound that is so rich but is beautiful in its simplicity.
One of the things I find so fascinating is that in the sheer number of artists who pump out music on an ever-ongoing basis, there are a select few that understand how simple it is to create compelling music. By “simple,” I do not mean “pick up an issue of Guitar For the Practicing Musician and you too can produce a gold album.” I mean, it can be done with four instruments and a modicum of care put into the songwriting process. Jesse Strickman cares about the process and it shows in his work. I could listen to “Circles,” “Frame of Gold,” and “A Revery” until I alienate everyone around me and still have a few more spins left in me; they are hooky as all get-out yet deep enough to elicit careful attention to the message of each track.
Don’t get me wrong, the songs can get a little loose and Strickman’s soft vocals feel held back at times and restrain some of the emotion that is bubbling in the undercurrent of each track. One of the things that draws listeners to folk is the pathos that each song conveys; it is a quality that I hope Dear Indugu continues to foster and grow in their music.
As far as debuts go, Dear Indugu has put together a solid six tracks that demand to be listened to. A lot. With earphones. At a respectable (loud-ish) volume. It’s not every day that an EP comes along that commands your attention with its message, puts a wiggle in your step, and does it with an electric and acoustic guitar, bass, drum and voice. I love a grand sound as much as the next person, but damn, I love it when someone gets their hands around the simplicity of sound.