Originally appeared on the Music Court.
I’ve not heard a whole lot of folktronica recently, and I miss it. Freelance Whales introduced me to its hypnotizing combination of banjo and synth, and for that I will forever thank them. Of course, there are many iterations of the genre, give or take some instrumentation, depending on how far they wanted to lean on the spectrum of folk to electronic. The Whales took their banjo and kick drum very seriously, but Isaac Vallentin seems to take more pleasure in the manipulation of guitar and harp plucking. His debut album Hedera is gorgeous and surprising.
Vallentin wrote Hedera in San Juan, in an attempt to shake off writer’s block. He overcame it with a vengeance, clearly. Interesting stories are woven throughout the record, with a lot of attention paid to the production. The energy of each track flows into the next; from Stewardess to Peach Boy to the Garden scenes, something is relinquished, yet also replenished. The narrative shows us a haggard character who aims to help those in need, but perhaps feels selfishly used. Another character comes to terms with falling out of love, even though the relationship falls apart without the façade. Vallentin focuses on the idea of time, how it shapes our loves- all four of them.
I know I went on and on in the intro there talking about how great folktronica is, but I also want to throw in how amorphous Vallentin sounds on Hedera. The acoustic instrumentation can’t be ignored, but with that said, there are many more instances where only synths and other digital elements are used to carry the emotion forward. It’s done expertly, and brings to mind Owen Pallett or Glasser, who both exemplify the experimental-pop hybrid style that Vallentin has carved out for himself. The lyrics don’t always rhyme, the time signature isn’t always typical, even the imagery can be shocking at times (“Cloud of Smoke”?!), but the journey is always engaging.