The band recorded Almanac at a 100-year-old barn in upstate New York, and the pastoral setting seeped into its music: not just in the occasional sound of raindrops or crickets, but in the rustle and flutter of other instruments that float into the mix. Alongside the reverb and distortion, and a newly expanded vocabulary of echoes, are glimmers of dulcimer, zither and accordion. They don’t countrify the songs, but they do ground them in natural acoustics. Meanwhile, Thomas has created a far more elaborate weave of guitars. They’re clear or hazy, distant or upfront, neatly announcing hooks or rippling away toward some far-off horizon.
And while the songs retain their verse-chorus-verse clarity, the newfound breadth of the music orchestrates and enriches lyrics that take the long view. “If we live until we’re long in the teeth/Think of me and how I used to be,” Hamilton sings in Ballad of the Golden Hour, which moves from acoustic guitar strumming into a tangle of slide guitars, a distorted psychedelic surge and a final, quiet thought about mortality: “It’s all slowing down.”
The album ends with Storm King, named perhaps after the sculpture garden or the nearby mountain in upstate New York. Guitar and piano chords toll quietly, with sustained tones and crashes looming up out of the background. “We found out there’s no forever,” Hamilton sings in fragile tones. “Running from death doesn’t make living better.” The only comfort, and there is some, is in the steadfastness of the music.
— JON PARELES, NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE