Session 181: J.E. Sunde // Humbird

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sunde square poster Poster Design: Stefan Matioc

May 23, 2018

J.E. Sunde's sophomore LP is an exercise in careful subtraction. The first LP Shapes that Kiss the Lips of God, (which itself followed complex LPs with his former band The Daredevil Christopher Wright), was an exercise in layers of soundbuilt up and presented like a spinning fan seen through a kaleidoscope. This number two LP Now I Feel Adored strips away the slowed blades and peers through a clearer, but darker lens.

The detailed weavings of melody found on previous recordings by the Minneapolis based songwriter are present, as always in the light strums of nylon string guitar, piano (electric and acoustic), occasional strings, synths and percussion, but the real feature here is in the bass guitar and vocal. Referred to as a bass forward effort by Sunde himself and played by Andrew Thoreen of Har-Di-Har fame and at times Pat Keenit shows. This bass presence is best heard on the track Wedding Ring, a kind of ode to commitment to belief. Juxtapose that with the shadowy tune Prism, a sad observance of the faults of man and perception (or lack of). The hint of darkness shows itself again on the reckoning tune Capsize and Sinkbeware censors, there is a word or two that the FCC would not approve of there. All the tracks on this LP flow from the beginning number, a duet with Monica Martin of Phox on the Irish folk-type tune I Will Smile When I Think of You. The essence of a kind of full minimalism starts thereit takes some time to notice how little is going on with the richness of what is heard.

As opposed to his first LP which was recorded over a long-ish time and mostly by Sunde himself, this second offering was done in just a few sessions, with his core band of , Shane Leonard (Kalispell, Field Report), Andrew Thoreen and Pat Keen. Augment that with Marty Breuggemann on keys and a smattering of real strings and flute and the sound becomes its realized self. The production quality of Hi Fi and vintage meets 70s am radio softness permeates the entire effort. The Victorian mansion in Neenah, Wisconsin that houses the studio sports a wood paneled dining room with a large table in the center where the band would share meals and breaks. The connections made at that table wove their way into the tightness and timbre of every track. This record will connect with anyone who sits at that metaphorical table to listen.


Where Else, the new EP from Minnesota indie-folk artist Humbird opens gently with softly whispered voices. As these voices begin to collide and overlap, the sound of human vocals begins to flow into water, harmonic drones floating overhead. Its a viscerally visual sound, an echo of the clear, unbroken silences of the Minnesota woods that first inspired Humbird songwriter Siri Undlin. The eldest daughter of a trial lawyer and Lutheran preacher, Undlin witnessed the power of stories from a young age and began writing music and performing at the age of 12. Born and raised in Minneapolis, she speaks today of a city thats still surprisingly close to the rivers and forests of the land, the images of her youth in the Midwest coming back unbidden as she travels the earth. In 2014, Undlin undertook a years travel through Northern Europe as part of a fellowship, drawing lasting inspiration from Norse mythology, Sami animism and joiks, the Welsh countryside, Paleolithic cave paintings, old world lutherie, and frozen Icelandic landscapes. These inspirations, and inspirations from further travels across five continents, remain in Undlins music today, though Humbird is much more of a collaborative process, bringing together the talents of Undlins long-time musical partner Dexter Wolfe (from their duo Undlin & Wolfe) with Minneapolis musician Pat Keen (bass/drums) and others.
Where Else presents a sound that touches on lodestones as diverse a Bon Iver, Bill Frisell, and Joni Mitchell, a sound meant to reflect a global North, a sense of place tied to the hyperborean realms.

Recorded in Wolfes studio, an unheated old church from the 1800s in Minneapolis, the surrounding winter and burgeoning spring seeped through the walls during the months of work. Where Else is the second of a two EP set released in Summer 2017 by Humbird. The first EP, Elsewhere, is a kind of early companion to the current EP, and was released June 2017. Both EPs when taken together present a cohesive vision of modern American roots music set through the lens of a starkly Midwestern perspective, touching repeatedly on Undlins own Norwegian-American heritage and her travels in the North. Combining a wintry longing with the warmth of a familiar folktale, Humbird stretches between experimental folk and environmental Americana to embrace the unexpected. This music invites a refreshing dissonance into the house, it leaves breadcrumbs along the path and reflects light back at the stars.