Best Fern’s Earth Then Air is grounded in the former and infused by the latter, two sumptuous inspirations that work wonderfully together.
I’m old enough to remember those commercials from the 70s and 80s where people walking around with open jars of peanut butter and full bars of chocolate collided in the unlikeliest of situations and discovered that the two ingredients are a perfect pairing (as long as you’re not anaphylactic to nuts). I don’t know what it is about Earth Then Air, the latest from duo Best Fern, that reminded me of these ads. Still, I like to think there was a similar a-ha moment that inspired Nick Schofield and Alexia Avina to blend their musical inclinations into a singular vision.
The cross-border duo (Schofield is based in Montréal, where Avina is originally from; she’s now based in the US) recorded Earth Then Air at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity, funnelling all the feelings of their surroundings into a dozen delicate ambient pop tunes. Opener “On and On” submerges you in their glistening soundscapes like a full-body plunge into the brisk rolling river referenced in its lyrics. Scintillating synths build to an unexpected crescendo on “Way Inside,” with Avina’s vocals running up one side of the song’s twinkly swelling keys and down the other. “You are a stream that curls around what grows,” she sings on “Jindalee,” a song whose delightful discordant coda echoes the way the air often feels like it’s bending under the weight of a change in the weather. “Do You Want Me” only needs a few sparse piano chords and perfectly placed horn flourishes amid ambient field recordings and Avina repeatedly singing the title as a question to achieve its natural state of bliss.
Intangible melodic tendrils snake through the band’s textured atmosphere, but always with a sense of which direction is up and down. Best Fern immersed themselves in their surrounding natural environment and allowed the trees, water, wind, and terrain to dictate the music’s direction. Earth Then Air is grounded in the former and infused by the latter, two sumptuous inspirations that work wonderfully together.