Book Club’s evocative sound is the perfect embodiment of the old Joni Mitchell line: “Every picture has its shadows / And it has some source of light.”
While Book Club’s lineup has changed and expanded over the years, founding frontman, guitarist, singer and songwriter Robbie Horlick’s vision has remained the driving force. His laidback voice, emotive and winsome, alternately evokes a shimmery pastoral beauty and deep shades of despondent darkness. The impressionistic lyrics don’t specifically describe events as much as arouse emotions. The music press took notice with Book Club’s last record, 2015’s One-Way Moon, which received high praise from outlets such as Paste, Exclaim!, No Depression and NYLON, the latter writing, “heart-wrenching lyrics with rich, gorgeous melodies … haunting and wintery … folk at its best.”
On Book Club’s ethereal yet riveting new third LP, Dust of Morning, the melodies and tempos never feel rushed. Rather songs such as “I Heard a Distant a Call,” “Honest in Disguise” and “When the Bells Rang Out” beckon the listener to float, drift and dream along with the set’s predominantly acoustic instrumentation.
Book Club never hits you head on. With the classically inflected strings and Horlick’s thoughtful musings, they gently invite you to examine the vagaries of life. Poetic lines like “every shadow hides a dawning”—from the aptly titled “Every Song, Another Question”—eschew easy answers, contemplating the quirks of existence while allowing space for listeners’ own interpretations to simmer and smolder in their minds.
Dust of Morning began to take shape after Horlick’s 2016 solo tour of Europe and the U.K. “I did three weeks there and I was writing the whole time,” he says. “But it was hard to zoom out and distill it all. After I got back, I decompressed and a lot of this stuff just spilled out. It’s not really a clear narrative; it’s things that occurred to me through the prism of that experience.”
The sound on the new Book Club record is spare and open, often with brushed drums, and hints of piano, cello and violin providing a somber bed upon which Horlick’s everyman voice and wistful lyrics lay together. The organic sound and recording approach made for a natural fluidity. “We did most everything live in the studio over a long weekend in the same room with everyone in line of sight,” Horlick says. “Two or three takes of each song—the strings were recorded with the guitar, bass and drums so there was no layering, just nice and easy.”
Even the album’s more lyrically desperate tracks, like “Can You Put Your Eyes On Mine?”—its protagonist pleading with a significant other to “put the phone away” so they can speak without distraction—are tempered by a sunny performance, often featuring the lovely harmony vocals of the band’s new pianist Lauren Love.
From the engagingly torchy country of “So Many Nights” (featuring Love on lead vocals) to the more insistent, rhythmic and string-driven “It Takes a Thief,” Dust of Morning explores a diverse and distinctive sonic palette within the indie-folk genre. Even though the subject matter seems intimate and personal, Horlick reminds us that the singer is not always the narrator. "These songs aren't all autobiographical. I mean, there are snippets, but sometimes I find the perspective of these narrators more interesting than my own."