We Are The Willows

The vivid memories that Peter Michael Miller, or We Are The Willows, has pushing pack on him, sticking like tree sap to his eyes and mind are construed into therapeutic snaps, these awakenings that fall ever so gently on him. They are embraced like lost kisses or old kisses and they're never let go of, just stained into him like the rich and potent juices of blackberries and pain. There's so much to think about and get immersed in on his debut album, "A Collection of Sounds And Something Like The Plague," a beautiful and pastoral example of a man trying to come to terms with endings - the final punctuation marks being places at the ends of sentences and hearing the final tendrils of last and lasting words ring out and die as they float over the distant hills. Miller is a beguiling songwriter, even as he's writing about darkness and the sad memories that have either been had or overheard. The Minnesota resident, removed from Eau Claire, Wisc., when he went off to college, seems as if he might be a good person to seek comfort in if you're dealing with loss. He seems as if he's found some answers here and there, along the way, through his own as luck and time would have it grief, and it can all come in very handy in helping you deal. There is a persistent impulse for Miller to conjure the imagery of lying a loved one down to rest, for good, and the temptation that he prefers to fall for is one of acute details. The descriptive nature of a burial seeps into his words on more than one occasion and we're led into some sharp and bright memories that take us to the state of Iowa, where we think we should be picturing one towering and regal oak tree, out there on the horizon. That oak tree probably leans with a fat, flat bough where a rope swing once was tethered burningly to it and now, we spy the silhouettes of loved ones beneath it, with heads bowed on the song, "A Funeral Dressed As A Birthday." Miller sings, "I just don't know where people go when they die/But I think your mother cried when your grandpa died somewhere in Iowa/So drink some beers from your uncle's car in the parking lot of the store he owns/Then come back to us in Minneapolis/We are waiting here." Later in the song, the narrator starts to let his emotions get the better of him - an act we hear as being out of character, but we find ourselves mentally encouraging him to let it out, man, let it out. He sings about drinking some beers on the floor of the kitchen, and at that point, we see the wreckage and a sturdier man in the past in no longer quite so sturdy, with the fences and walls breaking down. Miller has a voice that is reminiscent to Joel Thibodeau of Death Vessel, as it sparkles with ambiguity and a sweet, buttery topping, offering these tender sentiments like the steam from a life-preserving cup of morning coffee, on a morning when you can look out the window and see that everything's frozen solid. He takes us into an old barn at the beginning of "Yellow Dress," with the recorded murmurings of dozens of barn swallows and it seems like such a natural place to find Miller on most days, standing there and soaking it in, the bright outside light pushing through some slats in the roof or the ill-fitting haymow door. It's there and within that light and setting that he's led to think things like this, from "Trees In The Park," "I am browning leaves tossed from the coldest branches of the warmest tree in the park/And she's leaving me here to bury myself in the ground and the dirt." The cold and the warmth are but one and We Are The Willows can't separate their holy hands.