Release Date: 25 September 2015
Aside from a cache of YouTube videos and a few webzine articles, there’s not much to be found online about the Seattle band (by way of South Carolina) Valley Maker. Perhaps that’s intentional though. The band’s low-key sound just might be setting the pace for its minimalist web presence. Musician Austin Crane laid the foundation of what became Valley Maker (the name is taken from a song title on Smog’s 2005 release “A River Ain’t Too Much To Love”) while still a student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Crane released the band’s eponymous debut in 2010 as his senior thesis. That album consisted of ten songs based on narratives from the Book of Genesis. Crane relocated to Seattle soon after to further his education, and Valley Maker thrived, showcasing Crane’s signature delivery of his tranquil voice and deceptively simple finger picked acoustic guitar.
On Valley Maker’s latest, “When I Was A Child,” the band is still as acoustically experimental as ever, but for anyone who might equate the term “experimental” with “lack of melody,” I’ll be more than happy to let Crane and his latest work prove you wrong. The first track, “Oh Lightning,” sets the tone for the record with its dreamy, reverb-drenched guitar. Crane sings “Days go by, taking my time/Now I’m going to meet you on the other side,” while the voice of collaborator Amy Goodwin wails in harmony in the background. “By My Side” is a meditative reflection on what really matters in this world (good friends by your side, putting a smile on someone’s face), with backing vocals, again courtesy of Goodwin, that call to mind the harmonies of the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.
Crane is never going to be caught spitting out blazing guitar solos like some of his Seattle elders of the long-ago grunge scene, but knowing that somehow brings just a bit more balance to the universe. This is music for contemplating; both the lyrics within the songs and the world outside your earbuds. Listening back to that senior thesis from five years ago, one can marvel at how Crane has grown as a musician while still maintaining the mellow and reflective sound that formed the foundation of Valley Maker. Other standout tracks on “When I Was A Child” include the alt-country leaning “Only Time,” the gorgeous “Pretty Little Life Form,” and especially “Another Way Home,” which is about as pretty a song as I’ve heard in ages.
Catch Valley Maker live and in person October 7 at Columbia’s New Brookland Tavern, as well as on October 9 at Redux in Charleston.