The Shape Of Trees CD:
Heraclitus Sayz (January 2005)
Half-sung, half-whispered, with songs centered more on keyboard drones than guitar riffs, Avoidance Theory’s "The Shape of Trees" could work well as the soundtrack to a time-lapse film of plants doing their thing. The album is well-titled; Avoidance Theory’s music channels natural rhythms that can take on a distinct air of mystery, especially to a person steered by the proper combination of chemicals. But the music, if not the band, deserves credit for avoiding the old flower-child fallacy of longing for harmony with nature. At this stage in our cultural history, nature has become estranged from Western Man—so much so that a genuine encounter with the natural-as-such has become uncanny in the strict Freudian sense of the term. Stoned and meditating on our origins in the organic world, we come into contact with a familiar part of ourselves that we have repressed over time.
Avoidance Theory is composed of a married couple—credited in their liner notes only as Bryan and Linda—who met in 1989, but only began their musical collaboration in the late ‘90’s. They have saved me the trouble of analyzing their sound by providing a list of like-minded bands on their website. The most relevant influence-peer that they identify is Grandaddy. "The Shape of Trees," like Grandaddy’s 2000 opus "The Sophtware Slump," is marked by a dreamy resignation bordering on melancholy.
"Otto de Auto," the first song on "The Shape of Trees," particularly echoes Grandaddy; to the tune of plucked acoustic guitar, synthesized strings, and sputtering sound effects, Bryan sings a lullaby to a defunct car: "I let the charities come to collect/ they led you through a pasture into a box of lead/ and crushed you underneath willow trees/ and thus they will find you." A cultural artifact dissolves back into nature, our singer identifies the process with his own mortality, and he retires into himself to ponder this small-scale epiphany and its consequences. -- Heinrich Odom
Indieworkshop.com (Featured Review, January 2005)
Long live the homemade music scene, with its mad geniuses and quiet apartment recordings. Ever since hearing my first Sebadoh cassette, I have never been able to digest big money rockers the same way, at least not without a great bit of irony and cynicism. What is nice about today’s technologies is that even home-recorded music can sound fairly good, trading accidental fuzz for intentionally beautiful noise.
The Avoidance Theory, a married duo from my neighborhood, put out a really amazing EP last year, and has successfully upgraded their indie chops for this new full-length release on Shmat Records. Gone is the reliable, but old four-track recorder, which leaves way more space for the loads of harmonies and little noisy bits that really make the song.
“The Shape of Trees” is evidently a musical journey into the lives of trees and their changes throughout the seasons. Each song is remarkably different in its feel, with a cohesiveness still present throughout the ten tracks. What changes in each piece (the drums weaving in and out, inclusion of various samples) is more temporarily satisfying. It is what stays the same that makes the Avoidance Theory worth checking out. It is their successful marriage of the broken radio sounds of Grandaddy and Sparklehorse with the soft melodies of bands like Low and Yo La Tengo (and I am not just saying that because they are all married or anything). Too much of either one could have doomed this release to obscurity, but the duo has really found the delicate balance between whispered harmonies and that old scratchy vocal vibe.
Another big improvement from the EP, which is saying something because the EP itself was really an achievement, is the assuredness that the group brings to its music. Nothing feels tentative or accidental. It has a real adventurousness to it as well, as if they were using the latter Beach Boys/Brian Wilson albums or the last Flaming Lips record as their roadmap.
I was happy to review their last record, and now ten times as happy to see this new release from them. I can only hope that they will keep it up. -- Grant Capes
Splendid E-zine (Featured Review, January 2005)
The whole marriage thing really worked out for Brian and Linda. They've been playing together since shortly after their wedding, around six years ago, and their music speaks for itself. The Shape of Trees isn't an enormous departure from their debut EP, Promise to the Refrigerator, but it solidifies the fact that, yes, married people can also be harmonious.
"Otto de Auto" and "Welcome Fits", the album's first two tracks, caught me off guard as almost unbearable. The instrumentation sets a pleasant enough foundation for almost any voice to weave through; Brian leads "Welcome Fits" with no melodic vision and pushes out discordant vocal smudge. Luckily, Linda flies into the spatial confusion with a solid vocal stance, not only saving the song but setting fire to the melody-eating monkey on Brian's back.
The next thirty minutes are among the most beautiful, delicate moments I've heard in ages. Linda's voice is as smooth and luscious as brown sugar; your heart follows its every rise and fall. "Neck of the Woods" is the standout track -- it has the comfort and stability of an Iron and Wine song, but with a more personal touch. Brian's sighs layer stunningly with Linda's soft whispers, and the output is a hearth, an abode in which to warm ourselves.
Visually, The Shape of Trees is representative of a single tree viewed from a stationary position through all four seasons. Spring, summer, fall and winter evolve slowly as the album winds through the paths of nature, and along with the tree's condition, the music's weight and contrast parallels the changing seasons. The first four tracks, representing spring and summer, are light and peppy -- you can visualize trotting pigeons and nests of feathers. But as fall and winter approach, the songs' landscapes become cold and discolored; the leaves begin to fall and the composition weaves haunting images of despair and isolation. Linda begins to sound tired and frail, as if she's trudging through a snowstorm toward a house that may not exist, and she's almost ready to give up the search. In closer "The Love and Truth", we find nature's circularity hidden inside Brian and Linda's master plan: samples of chirping birds hint at the rebirth of spring, and we are led out of winter's clutches and into the light of a new season.
Brian and Linda bring us something that most unsuccessful bands fail at: the recognition of evolution as a part of all life, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. They've realized that no one ever got anywhere by pretending that life is static. -- Ryan Humm
Undertoner (December 2004)
Like the sound of falling snow. Like the sound of the circulating dance of fallen leaves caused by the silent hush of the wind. Like the sound of the deep of the forest. Like your half-hour clear stream of thoughts before the increasing drowsiness of sleep slowly takes over. Like a few pinches of needles. Like all these everyday small wonders (and what not), Avoidance Theory's The Shape of Trees is a small, laid-back, dreamy and time-freezing piece of work. It's an album that contains small song gems that can make up a nice therapeutic session to let you get away from stress, if you let it play in the background. But if you step a bit closer to your loudspeakers, the songs can easily do somersaults, contrast themselves and blow you in the ear.
"Schh!" You look around but can't tell from which direction this shushing is coming. And perhaps it isn't that noticeable. Perhaps it's an implicit, hidden voice the rests within The Shape of Trees. Even though it's an album that appeals to your inner calmness, you also need to be careful with it. Because it's an album that appears more fragile than first assumed. Fragile like porcelain. Be careful not to turn up the volume too high, because what if the sounds of the album fell apart? The music is most comfortable at a level that is just audible. In that way the instrumental tones can gently wrap up the duo Bryan and Linda's whispering vocals.
Welcome Fits contains a mixture of something calm and something disturbing; like a lump that grows inside your stomach and makes you aware that something will go terribly wrong. Bryan is locked up by the stairwell where he whispers strange words supplemented by warm but alarming synth lines. It's this intangible, underlying feeling of discomfort that lifts the album from the beginning. Same discomfort appears in Summery Action Films. In the sound image are drums like distant echoes while Bryan's vocals are smeared with a near airiness in the style of Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse). The lyrics flow like a kind of stream-of-consciousness while haunting organ tones with a lofty stillness fill you with uneasiness, because here you also feel it like a calm before the storm.
Neck of the Woods is a folk song dragged through Alice in Wonderland. A warmth blows through the tune with an acoustic guitar centre, quiet harmonica and strings gently treated with a slide pipe. Linda is like little Alice when she sings: "When I dial your number I need the signal stronger / Because you live in a neck of the woods that's backwards / With pidgeons for letter guides / And grape vines are telephone wires / And pumpkins like stereos / And the tree trunks sit on the patio." It's weird but it's spell-binding. The cute fairy tale mood is skewed in the following The Shape of Trees. The vocal melodies are tightly wrapped around just a few notes, which enhances a monotony that opens a portal to a half clear, half blurred world, somewhere between consciousness and sleep. Beauty is turned upside down and cruelty slowly takes over: "I hear you're building a nest of feathers and ribbons / Filled with sparkles, the kind you buy at discount stores / This is hiding when falling germs spread through the air / And you're laughing as the shape of trees destroy this town".
Emotion Sickness is a lovely, finger-plucked acoustic piece that sounds like a mixture of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide and Bright Eyes' Motion Sickness (here not because of the title, though) with a shot of Avoidance Theory's own dose of valium. It's a lulling and simple description of a trip home from wherever: "Back of the car / She gets so sick when it storms." The melody hitched onto this ordinary detail elevates the song a bit, and in the context of the album it's another link in the overall harmony/discord. Hibernate is compositionally divided into two. The first part is a typical representative of the relaxed acoustics of The Shape of Trees, while the other half turns up a distorted guitar. Under normal circumstances the sound wouldn't be particularly violent, but in the middle of this lingering, sleepy world the chords appear like a chain saw the tears through all the lovely trees that the duo has planted themselves.
It's a beautiful, nameless instrumental lullaby (not all unlike Moi Caprice's Berceuse) that lets you safely out of Avoidance Theory's world. All the fabulous monsters that have scared you in some of the tunes have turned into air. The treetops in the forest pull apart from each other again and let sunbeams light up the forest floor again. The constant dialectical and changeable relation between calmness and discomfort, which penetrates The Shape of Trees, makes Avoidance Theory's album interesting, also after several listens. So, the invitation has been sent out. Just come closer. Avoidance Theory have a story or two they'd like to tell, and they won't bite... much.
Smother.net (December 2004)
I heaped oodles of praise on their “Promise to the Refrigerator” and gave it an Editor’s Pick. Looks like I’ll be doing a repeat of that with Avoidance Theory’s “The Shape of Trees”. Continuing in the vein of lo-fi and low-key indie folk/pop, Avoidance Theory is able to masterfully paint abstract art and weave it into their very approachable pop tunes. One could easily muster the phrase “Twin Peaks” when you mutter on and on about the genius contained within each track. And while the y ’ve left the 4-track lo-fi world behind they still have that intimate details on ever song, which speaks miles about their songwriting abilities. Amazing.
The Promise To The Refrigerator EP:
Demo Universe (April 2004)
Like their Shmat Records labemates Light Sleeper, Avoidance Theory (nom de musique for husband-and-wife team Bryan and Linda Yoshida) make tender, pretty nod-rock from the hermetic comfort of their California hilltop home. Whereas Light Sleeper reclines on acoustic guitars and (bed) springs from the folk-rock tradition, Avoidance Theory fluffs its pillow with electronic keyboards and is more akin to bands like Stereolab and Sparklehorse. But the somnambulistic effect is much the same. (The two bands further intersect in that members of each play in a third group, named Tigerella, also on Shmat; kind of an Elephant 6 collective trip they got goin' on.) Those hankering for the softer side of indie-pop will embrace both bands, I'm sure. --Jim Santo
All Music Guide (February 2004)
Avoidance Theory's Promise to the Refrigerator is quiet, almost falteringly so. Like the appliance to which it's devoted, the EP's haltingly strummed acoustic guitars, nonsensical but cutesy lyrics, and whispered male/female vocals seem to buzz to themselves, their revelry broken occasionally by bursts of light from an open door, echoing distortion, or bursts of electronic squelch. (The reformulated video game noises running through "Bells of Revenge" represent this last factor well). This shelves Avoidance Theory contentedly between the early-'90s lo-fi pop of Six Cents & Natalie, and the clicks and buzzes of the latter-day indie electronica movement. Altogether it's a pleasant experience, like napping on the cool tile in front of your own refrigerator. Highlights include the title track and "View From 300 Million B.C.," where bullfrogs and crickets trigger the samples, and Avoidance Theory's vocals are a charming falsetto croak. --Johnny Loftus
South of Mainstream (January 2004)
We've all had albums that we really enjoyed, wanted to play for friends and family, only to find they just didn't get what we thought was so great about the listening experience. It's maddening, because we want to share and we want them to enjoy it as much as we do. I often deal with that with my husband, whose taste runs to metal and goth - leaving him pretty much incapable of understanding the merits of your average Sebadoh or Neutral Milk Hotel tune. But to each his own.
I fear that fans of Avoidance Theory will have much the same experience when they play this short, experimental, and interesting CD for their less progressive friends and family. I liked it quite a bit, with it's interesting keyboard programming mixed with delicate acoustic guitar and gently shuffling rhythms. Add vocals delivered in whispered boyish/girlish delivery by Bryan and Linda, and you get a sweet little listen, part robotic, part sweet indie shuffle. More inhibited listeners, those who have grown accustomed to glossy production and voices stretched and layered over and over again may not approve or understand the sparse, thready beauty of these vocals... (Read the full review) --Spodysingalong
Smother.Net (Editor's Pick December 2003)
Avoidance Theory avoids in theory anything loud and obnoxious. Ok, I just wanted to use avoid and theory in the same sentence. Now that that’s done I turn to the low-key lo-fi pop that is Avoidance Theory. They amaze with their simplistic approach that results in truly powerful and complex songs. And it’s the work of only two people! But underneath everything is this slight feeling of strange gloom just below the surface of the overtly poppy songs. The title track leads you down the path of coffee house rock while the rest of the album is not quite off the beaten path yet succinctly different from anything else you’re listening to now. --J-sin
Indie Workshop (November 2003)
I make promises to my appliances regularly. "One day, Toaster, no more crumbs, I swear"... "Make this burrito glow, Ms. Microwave, and I promise I will give me you a nice wiping"... I wish people would make more promises to their CD players... like "If you are good, I will put in Avoidance Theory".
This is a very nice little record. I don’t mean to make light of the six songs, but it is an ep, after all. But they say a lot in those 20 minutes. The band is only two people, but it sounds like they had a lot of good-natured ghosts working on this with them. Each of the six tracks has a slightly different feel, without seeming disjointed. Reverby voices float over crunchy guitars for a spell in the title track, while elsewhere in "Red and Whites", harmonies spiderweb over luminous vibraphone swells. The end result is an amazing pretty album with quite a bit to listen to, despite its diminutive stature.
If you enjoy slow tempo squalls of distortion with some feminine voices, this is the real deal. If you like the glitch and grandour of the Radiohead or the Grandaddy, this will have some real appeal to you as well. It will unfortunately rank high on one of those lists like "Best unheard record of 2003" but that should only serve as incentive to make their full length one of the Top 5 records in 2004.
Go get 'em, electric can opener and Mr. Cuisinart. --Grant
Agouti Music (November 2003)
I feel bad for the refrigerator. One of the most useful appliances in the house (right up there with TV), it deserves more promises than a 19-minute EP can give. But I guess it is a start. The refrigerator now knows we care, even if we don't take the time to express this properly. Avoidance Theory do what we've all meant to do with this EP, making campaign promises about how great the refrigerator is, and what we will do for it once we've been elected. The EP is pretty abstract, and there isn't much mystery whether you would like this album. While the sound isn't unique, fans of this style tend to like all they can get their hands on, and those that don't run far, far away.
My favorite track is "View From 300 Million B.C." It has a Twin Peaks feel to me, which puts it over the top in the great Avoidance Theory Song Competition. It has semi-haunting and not-overbearing keyboards, which are complemented well by lyrics that don't brattily scream for attention.
Salute your Hotpoint, Kenmore or Amana today, and don't forget to follow through on any promises you make! --Joel Edelman
The Bees Knees #19 (October 2003)
This EP was one of those unexpected treasures that arrived in the mail one day, that's for sure. The perfect blend of Elliott Smith, and Yo La Tengo is a weak but accurate description for the CD. It's like Elliott Smith is making space travel music for astronauts that aren't going to come back. I want more than just 20 minutes and 6 songs. --Mike Turner
Indieville (July 2003)
Elements of The The, Yo La Tengo, and Stereolab haunt Avoidance Theory's music, which drifts calmly through floating clouds of space pop. While the ambient nature of the music may be dull to some, it is still very catchy and accessible; shoegazer fans will definitely want to check them out.
This six song Promise to the Refrigerator EP is a nice sample of the band's style. Things start off with the Yo La Tengo-influenced "What You Said", and only build from there. Electronics are used freely à la Stereolab, but things are much slower and spacier, leaning towards shoegazer and dream pop territory. The songs here would go well on the next Blisscent compilation. Definitely worth a shot if you're interested in electronic-injected shoegazer music. --Matt Shimmer
Mundane Sounds (June 2003)
I like this record. It's friendly. It's affable. It's warm and fuzzy. It's made by people who know how to take care of a yard. It's made by people who don't know that you shouldn't play in an abandonded refrigerator. They're also folk who are now releasing their debut, and it's a pretty nice little debut as well. Sure, it's a bit brief--six songs, two of which are instrumental--but still, they're trying.
I read something that described them as kinda like East River Pipe, and though that's not a particularly true statement for most of Promise to the Refrigerator, it is a fitting comparison. I don't really see the Elliott Smith comparisons though, unless you want to say that they also play an acoustic guitar. Their music's much more interesting than his, simply because they're never really as minimalist as he was, and they're much more atmospheric than he ever was. (Goodness, is it appropriate to refer to him in the past tense now?) On "Red and Whites" and "View from 300 Million B.C.," they do appear to owe more than a passing debt to Radiohead, too. Luckily, they pull it off... (Read the full review) --Joseph Kyle
Hand Stitched Heart (June 2003)
This is my first experience with this band. From what I can tell is this is a duo that records everything. their sound is full of instruments that would make you believe there were 5 people in the band. There is no overuse of anything here. The first song "what you said" is a nice lower tempo'd pop song that has accoustics, electric guitars, drums, bass, and an assortment of keys. A full song that is a little on the power pop side of things, but I think shoegazer kids would like this too. The music is well recorded and everything just sits right. A good sign of some talented music here and these people are quite talented song writers...(Read the full review) --John
Splendid E-zine (June 2003)
Avoidance Theory is a married couple from Southern California; they produce lush, wispy indie rock in the style of Belle and Sebastian and early Elliott Smith. Husband Bryan and wife Linda share vocal duties, though it's sometimes easy to confuse Bryan's androgynous, half-sung, half whispered vocals with Linda's dreamy lullabies.
The six song EP shuffles two electronically nurtured instrumental tracks into a deck of four delicate duets. Opener "What You Said" is the most uptempo of the vocal tracks: acoustic strumming mixes with keyboards and synthetic drums, forming a blanket of clouds above which the lyrics float, declaring a friendship intact despite "what you said." ... (Read the full review) --Steve Nelson
In Love With These Times, In Spite of These Times (May 2003)
An ep of four proper songs and two instrumentals from new californian label shmat, which at their best sound as if east river pipe has for once left his car out front and decided to strum some ballads out in the yard. Their theme is betrayal (because broken promises of any kind are the most common currency of all) but the listener is likely to be the one person who doesn't risk ending up feeling shortchanged. Treasure their troubles and know that putting them into song is part of a therapeutic process for them too. --Kieron
Lost At Sea Online (May 2003)
Somewhere between Joy Zipper and Low, you will find Avoidance Theory: steadily rolling along with emotive, sparse, cross-gender harmonies, sadcore inclinations, and their love for the late-era Beach Boys worn gingerly on their sleeves.
If you can subdue the roar of quiet discontent long enough, you can also hear hints of Sonic Youth among the whispers, and the reference serves the couple well. "What You Said" mirrors some of Kim's most bleached-light moments, along the lines of "Little Trouble Girl." Likewise, the title track burns off nervous energy in the form of salty, experimental guitars and space-inspired noodling, content to flaunt their hushed power.
The Closer, "View from 300 Million BC" takes a respective bow to the density of The Cocteau Twins in an otherworldly, luxuriously weird bit of meandering. As unsettling as it is to have your emotions calmly played upon, the beauty embodied by their union serves as a commendable buoy.
In the closest rendition of Low this side of the chilly northern states, "Red and Whites" sets purposely off-key notes to soundtrack of plodding beats and broken dreams. In its finish, it swells with native intensity that shows the capable range to be found within angered silence. It's amazing what this duo can do without even raising their voices. Avoidance Theory have harnessed emotional and vocal clarity with an impressive measure of finesse. -- Sarah Iddings
Erasing Clouds (April 2003)
The California duo Avoidance Theory made a promise to the refrigerator, but I'm not sure what it was. Actually it wasn't just a promise to their fridge, but to all fridges. And they broke the promise, whatever it was. That feeling that there's eerie things going on with and around everyday objects is at the heart of Avoidance Theory's Promise to the Refrigerator EP. The songs have a congenial creepiness; they're low-key, pretty pop songs along the lines of Elliott Smith, but there's a slight tone of weirdness always present. Laser beams and unidentified voices are lurking in the background throughout the EP, and over the course of two instrumentals ("Untitled Bells" and "Bells Revenge"), the whirings and buzzings of alien-infiltrated appliances battle it out. "Bring out the mesh ring tape and chair," Bryan sings on the first song, followed by "I'm still friends with you, right?" Um, yeah, we're still friendsÉwhat was that you were saying about your fridge? The Twin Peaks of bedroom pop, Promise to the Refrigerator soothes while it intrigues and slightly unsettles. It ends with "View From 300 Million B.C.," a gorgeous whisper across millennia that brings things to a comforting close even as it leaves you walking around singing, "I must believe the world is gone." --Dave Heaton
Lost At Sea Online