Sometimes a band emerges with a first record that is so confident and fully formed, it’s as if they’ve been around for years. The Mountain Moves, Treetop Flyers’ 2013 début, was very much in this category. Steeped in the sounds of classic American rock and with highly accomplished, lovingly crafted songwriting, it could have been released at any point over the past 35 years. The fact that the band behind The Mountain Moves was a callow bunch of Englishmen barely out of their teens, rather than a road-hardened combo from Texas or Mississippi, made the seemingly effortless flow of their music all the more surprising.
This proficiency was no accident however. Around since 2009 and winners of Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition back in 2011, Treetop Flyers chose to painstakingly hone their work rather than rush-release their début; they have also taken their time to deliver follow up Palomino. On this occasion though, the reasons for the long gestation are very different.
Over the past two and a half years, current members of the band have experienced the loss of parents, broken marriages and the near-death of a close friend, as well as the departure of long-time bassist Matthew Starritt and numerous behind-the-scenes personnel. It’s hardly surprising then that Palomino is an intense, cathartic record which sees the Treetop Flyers trying to come to terms with all they’ve experienced. The end result is every bit as good as The Mountain Moves.
That record was constructed on the solid foundations of jangling, melodic guitar and soaring vocal harmonies and these key elements are immediately re-established on opening track You Darling You. Focusing on a failed marriage, it also introduces the stark, introspective lyrics that characterise Palomino.
There’s better to come. Lady Luck is an elegant, bruised ballad; six unhurried minutes of rolling piano and soulful, anguished vocals from singer Reid Morrison, with some emotive chord progressions recalling Portishead’s majestic Roads. Morrison’s impressive voice is in even finer form on the raw, powerful St Andrew’s Cross, a moving reflection on the loss of his father. This song is also a great example of how Treetop Flyers can really strip back their music to the bare bones, with the simple acoustic guitar accompaniment and gorgeous Crosby, Stills & Nash style harmonies providing an almost hymnal backdrop, as Morrison sings “I look at my mother/Crying outside/I look at my brother/missing his dad”. It’s moving stuff and further evidence of what a great band the five-piece can be.
Elsewhere, there are subtle but effective additions to the musical textures of different songs: a fluttering organ on Falling Back for example, or the discordant crescendos of piano that close Never Been As Hard. But it’s those wonderfully tight vocal harmonies that really set Treetop Flyers apart. Whether it’s the driving refrain of the final track Wild Winds, or the tidal wave swell of It’s A Shame’s chorus, they are rarely less than sublime.
Palomino isn’t a perfect album by any means. A few tracks feel a little rock by numbers, and for all the excellence on show Treetop Flyers do lack that streak of originality and cosmic weirdness that elevate American contemporaries such as Father John Misty or My Morning Jacket. Yet these are small criticisms of a band who have built upon the promise of their début very impressively indeed.