Hello, Dear Wind
by Page France
Fall Records (2005)
Baltimore's Page France best expresses the intent behind Hello, Dear Wind in the track "Junkyard," "I'm the truest song that was never true." Singer Michael Nau's plaintive voice has earned comparisons to Ben Gibbard, but while Gibbard looks for emotion in everyday situations, Nau explores sweeping themes of love, death, and eternity through one 14-track ethereal saga. More than a concept album, it's an experience. Written and recorded in just two months last year, Hello, Dear Wind features Nau's earnest words over alternately stripped-down folk guitars and vibrant, choral arrangements. The result is a bit like Neutral Milk Hotel backed by the Polyphonic Spree.
8 / 10
The album begins as it ends, with the singer assuring his love that they "will become a happy ending." The two embark on an allegorical trip to see "the circus composer" and earn their angel wings in eternity. "I'm not sure what happens when everything here ends," sings the narrator, "But I hope it's like they said." The following tracks blend religious imagery with Nau's own favorite themes--kings and queens, birds, mammals, wrecking balls--which are mentioned in nearly every song, as the pair's souls embark, plead with the angel of death, and accept their fate. A close read of the lyrics sheds a dark light on the story's ending, suggesting that the death trip came as a surprise to the lover, but was planned by Nau's narrator.
The story is paired with bells, organs, stomping feet, and clapping hands, and the wonderful Whitney McGraw, whose earthy, breathy voice tempers Nau's gentle whine. The music doesn't just accompany the story, but melds with it. Jesus rises "with worms in his hair" and dances at a party while rollicking guitars describe the scene. When the story's characters get lost in wonder on "Elephant," so do Nau and McGraw's voices, in a dreamy round. When the characters implore the circus composer, the organ begins to play and continues into the next track. And when the souls and angels come together to offer praise on "Grass," the result is chant-driven folk that builds throughout the remaining tracks until fading into a dirgelike finale. The standout track, though, is "Junkyard," a bell-punctuated ode that starts with Nau's guitar and metaphorical lyrics ("you were more than dressing for a feast/Eat until your teeth bleed") and rumbles on to heavy drums and choir accompaniment.
Hello, Dear Wind is a strange, exhausting, mesmerizing album that I'll be listening to again and again, to try to decode the whole story.