by Amanda Hanson
"I'm lost, lost" sings Everest frontman Russell Pollard on "Rebels in the Roses," the opening track of the band's tender debut album, Ghost Notes. It's a fitting declaration and the perfect tone-setter for the reflective and often cathartic songs that lie ahead. Pollard, like so many of his indie/alt-country singer-songwriting peers-Ryan Adams, Jeff Buckley, Jeff Tweedy-seems to be at war with himself and through music, draws upon his pain and missteps in hopes of generating some sort of sonic release.
Though certain songs touch upon universal themes and concerns such as the passing of time ("Stumble Waltz") and getting outside of one's own head and way ("Only In Your Mind"); the majority of the album speaks to matters of the heart and the conflict that arises when two souls collide. Fighting for love, fighting personal demons, fighting the one we love, fighting not to lose that love even after admittedly making enough mistakes to warrant the loss. Love, after all, is not for the faint of heart. With Ghost Notes, it's quite apparent that Pollard has gone to battle and not come out the victor.
As such, the album tends to lean more down tempo than up, but this is not to say that it's chalk full of weepy ballads. Backed by a group of musicians with enough indie cred to kill an elephant (Sebadoh, Earlimart, Great Northern, The Watson Twins), Everest's sound is more lush than barren, more hopeful than mournful thanks to the band's veteran pop sensibilities.
Recorded on analog tape with vintage equipment at Elliott Smith's New Monkey studio in the Everest's home town of Los Angeles, Producer-friend Mike Terry (The Eagles, Foo Fighters) was able to capture the band's earthy sound by tracking most of the songs with the entire band playing live together. To call this a rarity in the age of digital recording is an understatement to say the least. No wonder Ghost Notes sounds like an organic throwback to the sweet harmonies that were seeping out of Laurel Canyon and into mainstream consciousness in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It's little surprise that Neil Young's Vapor Records snapped them up with a record deal.
Everest mixes folk, rock, country and psychedelia with confessional lyrics much like Young did during his early days with Buffalo Springfield. Heavy on acoustic guitars with a splash of electric harmony alongside the occasional set of keys, including the oddball Wurlitzer and toy piano, the instrumentation is meticulously textured throughout. However, it's Pollard's heartfelt vocals and pleading lyrics that ultimately suck the listener in.
In "Trees" he calls out to the one who "made him come alive" before confessing "I need time to make this right!" With "Into Your Soft Heart" comes his plea for forgiveness. "Angry Storm" is a steel-washed, piano-based lullaby begging for an end to the storm. The head-nodder "I See It In Your Eyes" ultimately says the most by saying the least, "I see it in your eyes, you've got nothing more to say," repeat. While "Standing By" is a slow build through prog-rock darkness towards utter devastation: "I will miss this love, I won't try to deny it, I can't bleed it out, all I want to find is how to hide, deep in the ground...the power is down."
At the end of every dark tunnel comes the promise of light. Here, that light comes in the form of the introspective last track, "Taking on the Future," where Pollard follows in the path of spiritual guru Eckert Tolle's and his Power of Now teachings noting "this is all we have, today." Truer words have never been spoken, yet it's easy to imagine that today is only the beginning of Everest's steady climb up the slope to musical success.