Unbelievably Talented Music Making
Before I begin this review, I should tell you that I was lucky enough to meet Channing and Quinn a few years ago. From the first time I watched them perform live I have been hooked on their boundlessly creative music, not to mention their loveliness as people in general. Thrilled to finally be the owner of their first full length album , after thoroughly enjoying their two previous EPs, The Mason Jar and The Vanishing Act, I have listened to it on repeat over the past couple of weeks.
The first thing I find myself loving about Underneath This Big Striped Tent is that they have managed to capture the quirky personality of their live shows. With limited production and all of the lyrics and music conceived by Channing and Quinn themselves, the second thing I find amazing is that projects like this still exist outside of those created by teams of folks and millions of dollars in New York and L.A. Though slightly reminiscent of other artists I listen to regularly (Priscilla Ahn, Florence and the Machine, A Fine Frenzy, Larkin Poe) Channing and Quinn easily manage to differentiate themselves in a hard to categorize genre of pop/folk/indie/if-people-like-it-play-it style of music.
Always lending itself to the circus theme the title presents, Underneath This Big Striped Tent begins with fantastic energy. The first track, Somersaulting, discusses breathing fire while the second track, One Beat, takes the listener in the direction of ice. Unbelievably catchy instrumentation highlights the first two tracks, as well as Channing’s voice, which travels between rock concert in one moment and Broadway show in the next.
Oragami, the third track, is where I believe the album really starts to shine. Metaphors flourish in the lyrics throughout the album, but Oragami, as well as the next song, The String, are where they become most impressive. From comparing relationships to complicated paper folding in Oragami to describing a man so busy reminding himself to live his life that he forgets to live it at all in The String, these songs have a brilliant literary quality to them. This is where I have to admit that The String may be my favorite from the whole album. With its storytelling sadness in music and lyrics and Channing’s ability to naturally sing words like “appendages” and “personified” I find myself lost in some unbelievably talented music making.
Friendly Fire, the fifth track, has a beautiful simplicity to it and juxtaposes nicely with The String, to show the duo’s ability to convey emotion in many or few words. Next, in the sixth track, 80 More Years, Channing and Quinn’s sense of humor is on display in what I have finally decided is my second favorite offering. Hopelessly romantic in a very real kind of way, 80 More Years makes me smile every single time it comes on.
Next up is number seven, Traits of Addiction, bringing forth the circus theme once again with a sinister sounding version of the classic big top song. I want this song to be in a very dark scene in a movie and I mean this as a compliment, because it creates such a delightfully evil mood. Quite different from Traits of Addiction, the thing I find most intriguing about track eight, World vs. Me is a single set of line, “Forget the odds. I’ve heard them all. I’m still here.” Unique, yet symbolic and relatable on so many levels. Does it mean a person vs. life? One half of a relationship vs. the other? A struggling artist vs. success? The list goes on and on in my mind.
Finally, Underneath This Big Striped Tent, both the title of the album and the final track, wraps up the album with an endearing hopefulness. Which in many ways, I think could describe Channing and Quinn as artists. You can tell, whether it is the first time you hear them play, or the hundredth, that they are the kind of artists who make music, because they love to make music. Whether they become rich and famous or as the last song states, “ . . might not have the money to pay all of the rent” I gleefully believe this is the first of many well-crafted albums we’ll see from them. And I will buy every single one.