Review by Jeremy Benson

I imagine my copy of Only Connect, the new full-length release from I Am the Branch, will get most of its use in my car stereo, on drives home from get-togethers with distant and far-away old friends: it is late morning, I am full of coffee and reminiscence, I have just said goodbye for another year, and I have a lot to churn.

The atmospheric music sets the mood; it's more hypnotic than a swinging watch chain. The repetition of certain phrases—for instance, "I close my eyes on the most brilliant sunrise"—work like a mantra to clear the mind, escalating thought to the next plane. All of the lyrics are ripe for introspection and contemplation, especially over old friendships.

The stage is set in "Bloomsbury Group," as it mirrors the 20th Century literary club (home to Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, among others), describing a bull session lasting into the early morning, complete with a dry red wine and deep philosophical discussion. Vocalist Robbie Pieschke promises, "we'll keep out the cold by keeping it real." A few tracks later, "A Certain Type of Homesick" highlights the struggle to stay in touch with now-distant friends: "I'll scream at the top of my lungs in hope that you'll hear me." Lyrics like that beg for a moment to think.

While IATB's freshman E.P., Drink Tea, prominently featured a multi-talented Pieschke, Only Connect finds Robbie sharing "the blood and the sweat and tears and the goosebumps" with a full band. Yet, despite the more collaborative approach and the attention toward friendships, the album remains lonely. This is why a cello—always slightly haunting and always lovely in soli—bridges "Bloomsbury Group" to "Only Connect" (another reference to E.M. Forster). "Only Connect" is a call to reach out for other people, though it admits, "My comfort zone stretches only so far past my shadow," and wishes, "small talk should be enough." One wonders (while driving across the state) if the lone boater on the cover of the album is paddling away or toward his community.

For all these reasons, I wonder how Only Connect translates to a live show. Is the music too introspective for an audience to participate with, or do listeners get pulled into the band's bull session?

I'm in luck, as I Am the Branch has weekly shows scheduled for the rest of this month, including tonight, 7:30p.m. at Brewtopia in Bay City, and August 21 at St. Agnes Church in Freeland.

© Jeremy Benson, 2010