Three years ago, Richmond, Virginia-based Tulsa Drone released their debut album No Wake to positive reviews amongst the smaller group of people who heard it. That sparse album conjured up desolate and dry back roads, and instead of repeating the sound the group has wisely taken a small step forward on their second album Songs From A Mean Season while still incorporating many of the same things that made their debut so enjoyable.
One unique bit of instrumentation that the group highlighted on their last release (and for good reason, because of its unique sound) is the bass-hammered dulcimer, and it's back on this release, but is joined with another guitar, subtle brass, theremin, and even the occasional vocal. The result is a ten track (and just under fifty minute) album that sounds much more massive in scope, with references to not only western-leaning instrumentalists like Friends Of Dean Martinez, but also a couple tracks that are dang near potent enough to appeal to fans of doom metal.
The release opens with "Monongahela," and while the sounds are familiar, the track moves with a power that the group didn't unleash on their debut. With multiple guitar attacks, a growling bass, and layered dulcimer and sturdy drumming, it unfolds in ever-increasing waves that show off their more rocking side. On the other side of things, "We'll Take Oregon Hill" is closer to the style of tracks on their previous album, with the dulcimer taking more of a starring role while at the same time having much more complex surrounding instrumentation.
"The Plague" is one of two tracks on the release where guitarist Erik Grotz adds vocals, and it's also the most effective. Stripping things back to a rich, but powerful core, the group lets dry-as-a-bone guitars and organs stretch out rumbling bass and sparse percussion while the deep baritone vocals invoke appropriately gloomy atmospheres. Towards the end of the release, they unleash "Brace," which is easily the most thunderous four minutes on the entire release. On the track, sludgy guitar and bass chords march in lockstep while pummeling drums and almost completely buried dulcimer hammer away behind it all.
In a few places, the group seems to lose their focus a bit. Despite some nice brass, "The Catch" feels a fair amount too long at over nine minutes, and "Huntsman" treads through some rather bland post rock progressions without really engaging like some of the other songs on the album. That said, this is still a very enjoyable release by a lesser-known group who is creating some seriously cinematic music.