Social Circle, the latest EP by local musician Miles Cramer, is a collection of “songs about home, death, love and moving forward,” according Cramer’s Bandcamp page. It could be argued that home, death and love are all facets of the same thing — Social Circle does lend itself to such philosophical musings — and the album centers on the connectivity of those ideas.
“The future / is what we set in motion / our love the constant,” Cramer sings on lead track “Oh Happy Crow.” That song, with its field recordings of water and crickets, sets the tone. It begins with pensive strumming. Delicate strings (violin or cello — Matt Williams plays the former and Quetzal Jordan the latter) take the melody deeper into itself while drums add texture as much as propulsion. The whole composition is pastoral and mystical, at once breathless and galloping, reminiscent of early Fleet Foxes.
“Expectations,” theatrical and eerie, sees Cramer pushing his vocal into an unearthly falsetto. The song drifts in layers of dark piano and snapping percussion. There’s a story here: “Pain and change / are a part of life / that only makes you stronger,” the lyrics impart. But the fun house sound and prowling rhythm paint as much of a picture as the words. In fact, the lyrics work more as an accompaniment to the layered melody than a directive.
Haunting, too, is “Dia de Praia (Chuvoso),” whose initial intoned lyrics and plucked strings recall a religious incantation. But it’s the introduction of electric guitar, an ominous snarl shadowing the sung melody, that takes the track in another direction. It’s experimental, but also choreographed, from the way the instruments interact to the addition of found sounds and samples.
“Banda Aceh,” the shortest track on the EP, hits an emotional nerve early on. Strummed guitar and a strident, reedy vocal recall Neil Young and Blind Faith. There’s a psychedelic spirituality expressed not just through the lyrics (“death is a part of life”) by the tones, the minor chords, the blurred and distorted delivery.
Final track “You Never Know” is a continuum of that mood and philosophical direction, though it’s richer — fleshed out with strings and drone. The ring of Cramer’s vocal floats over the buzz of strings. Kora (played by Sean Gaskell) adds an otherworldliness while snare rolls underscore immediacy. The song is both of the moment and adrift in timelessness. “You have everything that you need / right now,” Cramer sings at the song’s crisp finish. “You will never live out your dreams / if you never try.”