Never judge a musician by his primary instrument—or even his primary band. Andrew McFarland, drummer for synth-y indie-rock outfit Reptar, founded Semicircle in 2010: first as a heavily improvised live collective, then as a lo-fi solo project, and now, with debut LP Blown Breeze, Grown Grass and We are Part of the Earth, a legitimate psych-folk band. Throughout the album’s 44 hypnotic minutes, McFarland emerges as a shockingly confident singer, songwriter and producer—one equally adept with stoned texture and hazy pop hooks. In Reptar, McFarland’s percussion grounds that band’s emo quirkiness with muscle; Semicircle conjures an opposite atmosphere, using fingerpicked guitars and wispy vocal harmonies to ponder an alternate spiritual world.
The effect works most immediately on lead single “Mechanism of Erasure,” which finds McFarland reflecting on his own death over a droning guitar-bass riff. “All pipes within our bodies / lead directly to the heart,” he sings, elongating the breathiness of each syllable. “The concealed hand of a strange man / Reminds me with a start that I get scared / The heat of all our bodies will depart.” He sings these abstractions so sweetly, so unobtrusively, it’s easy to miss how strange they are.
McFarland and bandmate Ryan Engelberger (also of Reptar) work similar small wonders on every track, the breeziness of their melodies belying the sophistication of their words and arrangements. Even the quietest, most minimal songs are filled with subtle sonic epiphanies (the seismic second-half electric guitar on “Underground River of Glass,” the borderline-dissonant chord changes on “No Words”) or stray lines that knock you sideways (“Writing a song makes it easier to get your dress undone,” goes a line on the gentle “Easier.” “Touching our tongues makes it easier to feel alright about nothing getting done”).
Semicircle is an unlikely triumph—but a triumph, nonetheless.