To be honest, I'd never heard of the group State River Widening before the release of their newest effort Cottonhead. Like many other little small releases, though, it's an album that has caught my attention and won me over, even though I might not have ever heard of it. The group, comprised of multi instrumentalists David Sheppard and Keiron Phelan (and several friends) is somewhat akin to the more delicate parts of Four Tet if they were played by an actual band or perhaps 70s folk music updated for the new millenium.
The cover of Cottonhead is a stylized drawing of a windfarm, and the music contained within is breezy and fits alongside it nearly perfectly. Despite being a little bit more pensive than other tracks on the album, the opener of "Crown" makes the breezy instrumentation very apparent as warm chimes float over a bed of acoustic guitar and violin. It's on "Touched" that the acoustic Four Tet comparisons become very clear, as multiple guitar melodies twine around one another and more chimes create an almost hypnotic background as hammond organs let loose and mid-tempo percussion gives the track a bit of a bounce in its step.
Wisely, the group knows that if the whole album were just chimes and acoustic guitar, it could just float by like a faint whiff, so they actually get things a bit more down and dirty at times. "Knifegrinder's Song" adds some growl to the rhythm section and while the drums never get much beyond being brushed hard, there are found-sound samples and a general swirl-of-sound feel that gives the track more of an edge. Despite the title, "Madder Hues" is an epic, embelished spaghetti-western track that mixes dry guitar melodies with electronic loops and plenty of unique instrumentation for yet another interesting take on the theme. On "Desertesque," the group even channels Steve Reich vs indie rock with gorgeous layers of chimes and subtle but punctual drums. While it's never an overwhelming presence, Cottonhead is a joyous little album for those that don't mind pastoral instrumental music. Recommended.