By Kaleem Khan, September 11 2014 —
From the shores of Vancouver comes the first album by neo-folk musician Sean Travis Ramsey, known as Slight Birching. Cultural Envelope is equal parts album and conceptual sound art piece. Blending folk, ambient and noise, the meticulously crafted album presents a subtle and sparse cosmic soundscape that is easily listened to.
Cultural Envelopes opens with “Autodidact,” a tense wall of noise overlaid with vocals that break into a bouncing uplifting folk chorus. The tracks are enhanced by the lo-fi recording process — stray noises reduce the sonic quality, giving the tracks an imperfect vibe.
Lyricism consisting of deadpan bluntness robs any hope of catchiness (“I take myself to school / It’s only because I’m dumb”), but the album is redeemed by honest sincerity (“Use your senses to feel things / and you will know when you are happy”). These lyrics may seem awkward, but their delivery and cadence gives the album calculated anti-folk qualities.
“Ineffables” drones along slowly and melodically, before culminating into a gentle fade. “Beacon Hill” adds synth atop sombre folk guitar strums, reminiscing of Mount Eerie’s vaporous, lo-fi droning folk.
Canadian folk music often follows trends of upbeat and traditional folk ballads, though Slight Birching offers something not so immediately satisfying. Cultural Envelopes is an ambitious piece of music that requires careful and meditative listening, giving Canadian folk music a well-needed nudge toward the cosmic unknown.