Image Courtesy of Packwood
I was one of the lucky few that go my hot little hands on a stream of Packwood’s mini-album Autumnal well before it was released this week. But the reason you’re only reading the review now is the quandary the release gave me – do I like the album because I’ve been anticipating it for almost 2 years now, or do I genuinely love it for what it is?
I’ve been listening to Autumnal over and over in the past month. A stream of it automatically fires up when I log into my computer each morning and it’s become by default music to drink coffee and read my emails to. I feel like it’s become part of my DNA. And you know what? I honestly think it’s Packwood’s best work to date.
Autumnal sees a few minor changes to the Packwood sound. Done is vintage banjo picking in favour of an acoustic guitar. The orchestral elements are still there but have been toned down, favouring instead the backing of a choir. And there’s even drums on a couple of the tracks! But the essence of Packwood’s chamber-folk sound is still there and fans of his 2012 debut album are bound to be delighted by the five stunning tracks on Autumnal.
“All Smoke Must Find It’s Way Home” is the album’s first single and is probably the most accessible on the album. There’s a Sufjan Stevens vibe to the melody and guitar accompaniment but once it builds to the chorus with it’s choir, pizzicato strings and trilling flutes it draws comparisons with “big” bands The Polyphonic Spree, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros or even early Arcade Fire. I love the way the 6/8 time signature of the guitar is punctuated by the steady march of the drums on this track, pushing it forward and drawing the listener in with every crescendo.
Of all the songs on Autumnal “Before the Fall” feels the most like the tracks from 2012’s Packwood with a focus on Packwood’s sparse vocals and melodic guitar over the top of sweeping orchestral and vocal arrangements. Packwood’s delicate vocals are bolstered by the oohing and ahhing of the choir and result is glorious.
I know Bayden from Packwood is a huge Sam Amidon fan – we often trade Sam Amidon tracks on social media – so it’s no surprise to see the indie-folk singer-songwriter’s influence all over “What I Want”. I think it’s the syncopated drums in “What I Want” that really remind me of Amidon coupled with the timelessness of the melody and Packwood’s vocals. I’d love to see Packwood experiment more with this sound – I think it could take him into interesting directions.
“Some Flood Let Out” is probably the track I struggle with the most on Autumnal. It’s circular, ambient melody overshadows Packwood’s lyrics and I find myself drifting out of the music. It’s still a really interesting song – I like that Packwood is trying different approaches to the way he arranges his tracks, I think this one just missed the mark a little.
The final track on Autumnal, “...and All Your Mistakes”, pares Packwood back to his core elements – the beautiful fingerpicked guitar, vocals front and centre with a subtle harmony sitting just behind. There’s something captivating about this song – you can imagine it silencing a room, the audience leaning in close to hear every note. Just stunning.
Overall I can’t recommend Autumnal enough. Packwood has grown so much in the 3 years since his last release while retaining the unique sound that makes him so captivating. I’m so glad he’s back!
Autumnal is the first part in a wider, four part song cycle titled Vertumnus. It is available to buy via Bandcamp and iTunes. Packwood’s upcoming tour dates are below:
Saturday 28th March – Vinyl, Adelaide, SA
Wednesday 15th April – Bella Union @ Trades Hall, Melbourne, VIC
Friday 17th April – Smith’s Alternative Book Shop, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 18th April – Hibernian House, Sydney, NSW
Sunday 19th April – Black Bear Lodge, Bribane, QLD