This is not a story about a band defying that truth, but rather defending the virtues of quiet perfection.
Sometimes, the most fascinating bands are those that exhibit an apathetic relationship with change and the concept of “growth.” For every ever-shifting band like Radiohead, there’s another that have been playing the same type of music forever, strengthening the core of their sound. There’s a bravery in finding yourself comfortable enough in your art that you don’t need to mutate, but rather just nurture the sound that works.
This is not a story about a band defying that truth, but rather defending the virtues of quiet perfection. For over 30 years, Lancaster, PA’s The Innocence Mission have shown themselves adept at exactly that: shifting essentially never, but never allowing their well of beauty and creativity to run dry. As such, it can be easy to take for granted every passing album they release – they tend to arrive with little fanfare, if any, a delight for those who pay just enough attention to the right channels to catch wind of their upcoming work. Their twelfth record, See You Tomorrow, will likely fall into that same rhythm: heard by the faithful, but otherwise missed by the music community at large. Frankly, that’s a fucking tragedy. The trio – the married Karen and Don Peris, as well as bassist Mike Bitts – are preternaturally talented and capable of remarkable beauty and restraint.
To say that the songs of See You Tomorrow feel lived-in is an understatement. Like many of their records, these songs were recorded in the Peris’ dining room and basement, the end result being an album with an uncommonly inviting demeanor. Opener “The Brothers William Said” is an unassuming song where stanzas like “The kindness of your face/ Does not go unrecognized/ Has not refused to shine/ In this most difficult time” can float through without irony. Each of the album’s 11 songs are as unhurried as this one, and each of them contains at least one lyric as tender as that one; just one song later on “On Your Side,” she dreams about having coffee with her mother in Paris, her mother gently reminding her, “I never have let you out of my sight/ I have not gone… I’m always on your side.”
Karen – and, later for “Mary Margaret in Mid-Air,” Don, though to a lesser degree – deliver the songs of See You Tomorrow in an almost dreamlike fashion. She wrote the bulk of the songs of See You Tomorrow, and she did a wonderful job of sewing the album together with small meditations on both memory and distance. In “We Don’t Know How to Say Why,” she sketches a snowy scene where she processes her love for the song’s subject, while on “At Lake Maureen,” she declares “I feel something new about you” to an unknown party while at the titular lake. Her voice is gentle enough that it feels destined to blow away, but the fact that it doesn’t is inspiring. In a couple cases, though, the equally dreamy arrangements don’t help. “On Your Side” and “Stars That Fall Away from Us” make her sound like she’s slipping beneath the waves of strings and soft percussion. At best, the instrumentals reverberate in the same way that her words do, as with the gauzy fingerpicking of “St. Francis and the Future” or haunting piano on “John As Well.”
If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that See You Tomorrow can feel too soft, its songs taking a few repeated listens to grab you. Somehow, though, that complaint feels almost like complaining that a dream’s details didn’t leave quite enough of an impression. In an age where it’s almost expected for folk artists to weave their songs with pain to make up for the form’s perceived shortcomings (see Sufjan Stevens, Mark Kozelek, Phil Elverum), spending some time with any Innocence Mission record is a breath of fresh air. It’s devoid of angst and tender at heart, and we can only hope they never decide to grow out of making music like that.