One of the wonderful (and sometimes confusing) things about instrumental music is how open to interpretation it can be. While lyrics and instrumentation go hand in hand, the introduction of words does effectively contextualize a song. Of course there are other markers — rhythm, key, the instruments being played — that set a mood, but these are more subtle than the storyline of a lyric.
Field Guide, a new collection by local musician Sarah Louise and available on Scissor Tail Edition on Feb. 28, juxtaposes spirited instrumental compositions with pensive vocal tracks — the chilling, droney “Home Over Yonder (Variations Pt. 1)” an apt example of the latter. That song floats like a storm cloud, a cold haunting in dark mountains. The lighter, percussively strummed instrumental “Dog Improv” captures the shuddery joy of a canine companion. It nods to green fields, bright daylight, water droplets flung from fur, the happy yips somehow implied by fingers squeaking on strings — and a field-recorded background bark.
While Louise offers visual cues with her song titles (for those who experience the synesthesia of mental movies accompanying the listing experience), they’re less like clues and more like fragments of a multimedia collage. The poetic suggestion of “Late Summer Seed Collection,” a capricious track of staccato plucks and rolling melodies, dovetails with the idea of a Field Guide. And how could the score to that sepia concept be anything other than this collection of earthy rhythms, breezy soundscapes, shadowy stands of trees and open fields?
Opener “Passage” sets the scene with its bittersweet finger style guitar work. Parts dusky melancholy and dizzying expanse, it transports the listener to some airy vista. The track is as masterful as it is simple, as crisply modern as it is timeless. “The Day is Past and Gone (Variations) bookends the album. That final offering feels like a closing. A nocturne, despite its climbing scales, it’s underscored by buzzing low notes from which sharp hits of minor chords leap and sparkle like so many shooting stars across a moonless sky.
Sarah Louise performs at a Triple Tape Release Show at Harvest Records on Friday, Feb. 20. Shane Parish and Wes Tirey also release new projects (Odei and Gnostic Hymns of the Blue Ridge Mountains Vol. 1, respectively), and the lineup includes Hospital Call, the solo project of Amanda Haswell. 9 p.m., $5 suggested donation.