The Sand opens with “Family River” and a single, fuzzy chord, announcing itself abruptly, before slowly retreating into something more muted and folky. It’s not the last time JP Haynie plays with your expectations, but it might be the most engaging, and it sets the tone for the album well.
Haynie hails from Salt Lake City, and The Sand is his first record, released this summer. It’s entrenched in lo-fi and the kind of sleepy-eyed bedroom folk made popular during the 90s by artists like Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Jeff Mangum. The songs are all built around Haynie and his guitar, only bringing in a piano or percussion when necessary, never overdoing it. In fact, The Sand seems to be about under-doing it, as the album rarely attempts to pick up any real momentum.
As hushed as The Sand is, there are plenty of highlights to reward a listener’s patience. “Peaceful River”, the album’s longest track by nearly a minute and a half, winds its way through some simple piano chords and a drum kit, Haynie making full use of empty space and some four-track harmonies. It never builds, it just moves along, slowly, until a guitar is carefully plugged in and the song breaks open—still subdued, just louder now. It brings to mind Mark Linkous at his most reflective, or Phil Elvrum at his least abstract.
Another standout is the balladeer folk of “How Quickly We Forget,” which begins, “Oh how quickly we forget all the good things that have passed / all the tenderness we felt / it’s all gone now, and there’s darkness in our heads.” It’s a quiet song that takes its time, and Haynie seems to only offer as many words as needed to tell his story, never embellishing for the sake of embellishment.
Yet while restraint works for much of the record, after a few listens I found myself wondering what Haynie might have done with a little bit of flourish. “New World,” for example, has the potential for baroque majesty, with a foundation like something from Nick Drake or Colin Blunstone, but it only wanders (although it does wander to some quite pretty places). And the most upbeat song on The Sand, “In the Desert at Night,” wants to be bouncier and more jubilant, but it gets weighed down by some overly simplistic string plucking and never gets off the ground. It’s disappointing only because you know there’s more to these songs than what we’re given here.
The Sand is a fine effort from a talented songwriter who seems to have a very clear idea the sonic space he wants to occupy for the time being. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Haynie certainly has the ability to explore his sound further with time. For now, I’m happy to go on the kind of very particular journey Haynie wants us to take, and I hope to hear more from him in the future.
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