Local singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ben Gibbs has masterminded a number of projects such as Hector’s Nectar and Goddess. His newest incarnation is in the lush, dreamy-lounge of Dandelion.
The band’s debut, Greetings from Cascade Park, is described as “smooth and dark, sad but upbeat” on its CD Baby page. And that’s accurate, though the sadness feels more like poignancy; the pang in the change of seasons, love recalled from a distance of time. “I want to take you somewhere special,” vocalist Alex Nuesse sings on lead track, “Letter to Pontilus.” She colors the project with a vocal both ethereal and rich. Her soaring tones are paired with hand claps and jabs of saxophone (Jerry Collins) that bright composition back to earth.
“I Wanted You (For So Long)” captures a Xanadu-reminiscent flash and thrum. And, though there’s longing in the melody’s cool notes and Neusse’s vocal glide, it’s belied by the driving percussion and atmospheric swirl. There is a secret tragedy in the lyrics, which Gibbs penned: “I used to watch you from a distance, and then we almost had a child.”
That kind of missed connection runs like a thread throughout the album. Soulful piano, finger snaps and deep groove (thanks to guitarist/bassist Ricky Rod) on “Can’t Make It On My Own” deliver the listener into what could almost be a Carole King track. It feels ’70s-set without being revivalist. And that golden era of rock does seem to flow, unadulterated, through the veins of certain musicians — like the soul and pulse of that decade is more about DNA than fashion.
There’s a sweet ache inherent in “Everybody Knows It’s True.” But here, the vintage vibe is traded for laid-back tones and a minimalist melody underscored by electric buzzes and a tart background beat that resonates in space. The piano runs between verses are the star of the song, clear and staccato as raindrops.
“Why’s It Gotta Be Like That” is modern, too. It leads with trumpet (Dave Reep) and all the finesse and yearning that instrument can convey. The drums (Gibbs) are tastefully in the background, propelling the song even as the melody lags and dips coolly. The work of conflicting tensions barely registers and yet does some heavy lifting as far as the song’s vibe and palpably wistful mood are concerned.
Final track “Friendly Skies” is, unlike its name might suggest, dark. Neusses’ voice sweeps in, expansive and evocative, sliding up and down minor scales, a masterclass in sangfroid. The song skews experimental, less interested in pretty melody than with barometric pressure and tonal chill. But, with its stop-on-a-dime finish, it feels like an apt completion to a compelling debut.