New Video for Umbrella Tree's Child Bride

Steve Haruch | Nashville Cream | 12-17-08

Apparently, this is just the first in a series of 15 videos planned to accompany a new Umbrella Tree album, to be called The Letter C. As someone with a bit of an electric typewriter fetish, I love to see an old Smith Corona in action--an effect that places a pretty heavy emphasis on the lyrical content of the song, as phrases are typed, scrolled and magnified throughout. I'd say a lot of those lyrics lend themselves to visual representation (developing photos, the look of bedroom walls in the morning and so forth), but something about focusing on the text itself creates an odd effect of its own, and really, the song's narrative stays a lot weirder because your only image of it is mental. (Kind of like the way a book is often much more powerful than the film version, because the imagination is limitless the way a picture can never be.)

Umbrella Tree, PopFest 2008 

Alexander Dimitropoulos | The Athens Exchange | 8-16-08

Where did Umbrella Tree come from? I know it says Nashville on their MySpace page, and the band said they came from Nashville into the microphone, and that information entered my ear and it didn't process at all. They take three instruments (keyboard, guitar, drums), play them ridiculously tightly and then sing better than you or I, sometimes at a pretty big distance from the microphone. Zachary, the guitarist/bassist and one of two singers, said he has the same name as Zachary Gresham of local band Summer Hymns. He also has a voice that's a dead ringer for Rufus Wainwright's, can do some nasty harmonic fretting and had a fun time saying the name to the bands song titles, including "Bats in the Belfry." Combine those with Jillian's shy, reserved singing and punchy keyboard playing, and you have minor key romps that brought the house down.

"Everything you heard can be bought," Gresham said. "It's a miracle."


Music Review: Umbrella Tree - The Church & The Hospital

Stuart A. Hamilton | | 3-18-08

I'm not entirely sure what the Umbrella Tree is? Sometimes, the members seem to be out-and-out progsters, then they take a turn into art-rock, the catch all term for students who're too scared to admit that they're prog, and sometimes they just play weird pop.

Whatever, it's all rather engaging. Not that anyone from a university ever reads my site, but imagine Arcade Fire if they weren't a pile of keech. Or The Decemberists overdosing on Peter Hamill solo albums.

Album number two - the follow-up to What Kind of Books Do You Read? (answer - does a takeaway menu count as a book?), is a smorgasbord of innovative ideas and ambition, some of which end up crashing ignominiously to Earth, but they get a large amount of kudos for trying.

At times schizophrenic, in no small measure due to the clashing vocal styles of keyboardist / vocalist Jillian Lee and guitarist / vocalist Zachary Gresham, who along with drummer Derek Pearson are Umbrella Tree. With Lees nonchalant cooler-than-thou pose, and Greshams crazy-guy-on the sidewalk squall, they have a different slant on what constitutes harmony vocals, but it certainly gets your attention.

Unlike many band members that seem to think that meandering is a positive force, Umbrella Tree have stayed true to the three minute pop song, managing to condense their rampant ideas into easily digestible chunks that are full to the brim with quirks and ideas. Even the instrumental track, "Jellyfish Evaporate" keeps you clinging on, wondering just how it's all going to end.

A lot of what the members produce has dark undertones; indeed some of the darkness hits you right upside the head, none more so than on the album closer "The Youngest Apple," a tale of an unwanted baby sister’s death. But they can turn it all around with some joyous moments like "1054". Although, given my predilection for all things religious and gothic, it's not surprising that I find myself inexorably drawn towards "Make Me a Priest" and "The Monk & The Nun."

It's an adventurous album that sometimes falls over itself in its headrush of ideas, but I'd rather listen to a glorious attempt to touch the sky, than the concrete slabs of dullness that permeate modern music.

Prog-pop Trio Umbrella Tree Unleash a Full Blown Concept Album

Dave Paulson | All The Rage | 2-19-08

Most local rock scene followers could have predicted that prog-pop trio Umbrella Tree would let its theatrical leanings foster a full-blown concept album, and that's just what the band has done. You might even dare call it a "rock opera," if you convince yourself that you've latched onto a plot.

And yes, The Church and the Hospital impresses with its cohesiveness, not only in its theme, but in the symbiotic playing style the band has developed. The spirit of connecting scenes and characters goes hand in hand with assembling increasingly focused tunes with fluid vocals and airtight arrangements.

Unlike the intensely quirky, piecemeal vignettes found on debut album What Kind of Books Do You Read?, a track like "Nursing the Patience" does just that — retaining all the garish music-hall charm of their old work but ignoring kooky, song-diverting impulses.

If Arcade Fire collided violently with the Fiery Furnaces, you might be halfway near Church's sound, but that still ends up selling short this band's truly singular pop.

Tree Tops - Local trio Umbrella Tree’s sophomore album wows

Lee Stabert | The Nashville Scene | 2-14-08

Umbrella Tree’s sophomore album The Church & The Hospital opens with a scream—literally. A unison howl prefaces a crash of music. Never a band to allow their audience to get too comfortable, this local threesome mixes moments of alarming beauty with calculated, cacophonous noise. And here the palette has grown even richer—the louds are even louder and the pretty parts often transcendently beautiful.

The source of that powerful dichotomy is the relationship between the band’s two singers: keyboardist Jillian Lee and guitarist Zachary Gresham. The petite blonde and the tall bearded guy in suspenders are an odd pair, visually and vocally. Lee has a sweet, exquisitely controlled vocal instrument, while Gresham’s appeal lies in his expressive, shrill warble. Together, they interweave tricky harmonies and call-and-response chants—the musical equivalent of good cop-bad cop.

Last year’s debut What Kind of Books Do You Read? announced the trio as a force on the local rock scene. With their first full-length, they had what any up-and-coming band would kill for: a clearly defined, unique sensibility. On Church, recorded at Battletapes in East Nashville, engineer Jeremy Ferguson brings the band’s complex ambitions to life. Connecting such disparate ideas may seem like a quixotic task, but the proficient playing and the tight production make it work. It’s particularly impressive given the brevity of the songs—nearly half come in at under three minutes, yet they’re anything but lean.

This is partially due to the band’s literary, quirky breed of rock, rife with motifs and recurring images: churches, hospitals and ailments of all sorts. Here, the “church” influence is not only ideological but sonic, with echoes in the singing, harmonies and gothic instrumentation. On the bridge of “Make Me a Priest,” we get a cappella in what sounds like Latin, and on “The Monk & The Nun,” Gresham promises, “I am using my in-church voice.”

But this latest record also brings some refreshing new tricks to the table. Intermixed with the classical instruments and nostalgic sounds are meticulously employed electronic elements. On the stunning instrumental “Jellyfish Evaporate,” the momentous, swelling opening is speckled with barely audible electronic bleeps—the kind that, if you’re listening while driving, might make you check your blind spot for a nearby reversing semi on first listen—that gradually overtake and eventually dominate. The song opens with the hum of church bells and closes with a robot chorus—a triumph of technology over beauty.

Lee’s “A Horse That Will Come When I Whistle” was What Kind of Books Do You Read’s iconic track—a deliciously coy performance. She made the song’s opening question—which became the album’s title—simultaneously sinister and sexy, and even precocious. Here, her creepy closer “The Youngest Apple” has a similar elusiveness. But instead of subversive sensuality, this tale of an unwanted baby sister’s death has the ambiguous charm of a gothic orphanage bedtime story. Other highlights include the dynamic “1054” (the swirling organ toward the end is the album’s most smile-inducing moment) and “Smells/Bells,” the longest track at five minutes, and one of the strongest showcases for the leading duo’s wonderful harmonies.

More than once, The Church & The Hospital made me think of author Ray Bradbury—master of understatement hidden in opulence. Like that craftsman, this band’s talent lies in indulgence, in packing as much information and as many ideas as possible into a tight, polished space. In their temerity, they find great power. A song in German? Why not? Another in French? Sure! Best local release of 2008 to date? Most definitely.