There’s a wistful, unpretentious elegance to Book Club’s sound. At once urbane and downhome, this is modern pastoral pop music that—in sound and spirit—can trace a straight line back to the simple, unaffected roots of American storysong. On Book Club’s new LP, One-Way Moon (out Feb. 3 via Cottage Recording Co./Bear Kids Recordings), frontman/songwriter Robbie Horlick practices introspection without navel-gazing, his wounded warble trickling like creekwater past the strum of the nylon six-string and the pluck of the banjo, cascading over daydreamy piano and the breathy moan of bow on strings. Further downstream, his vocal melodies empty into a crystal pool where they swirl gently, endlessly, around the wholesome, charmingly demure voice of harmony singer Rachel Buckley. The whole affair is a dazzling exercise in restraint—a stripped-bare, acoustic album where what you don’t hear is just as important as what you do.
Glide Magazine is premiering “Most Lonely” from One-Way Moon, a track that affirms Book Club as devoted practitioners of experimental sounds and orchestration.
“”Mostly Lonely” is one of my favorite songs on the record, says Horlick.”The music and lyrics came to me very quickly and naturally, as if I were just channeling them, and the song was arranged and recorded in the studio much the same way. I tend to trust songs that develop in this way more than songs I labor over.”
Horlick goes on to explain, “To me, it’s one of a certain category of songs that sneak up on you. It’s melodic, driving and upbeat, but it hides a darker theme: one of those “happy” songs that, after a few listens, you realize is actually kind of sad. Not that the narrator’s point of view is a secret—the premise is the title—but I think the tune’s melody and arrangement allow the listener to kind of float over it, letting the point marinate (“when the sun is bright, it’s hard to see just how dark it might actually be”) and then surface if and when the listener’s subconscious wants.”
“Whoever the narrator is speaking to—whether himself or someone else—the point is clear, and the question is direct (“Is it that hard to see?”). But what we do with that perspective is the point. We can treat it as an observation, a truth, a distortion or a call to action. It can be a sad song; it can be a happy song. It can be a sad song that makes people happy, or a happy song that makes people sad. Or some other combination. But no matter what, it’s a slice of honest and direct emotion. That was the aim, at least.”
Since forming in Atlanta in 2011, Book Club has shared bills with a simpatico list of artists including Roadkill Ghost Choir, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Cate Le Bon, The Melodic, Richard Buckner, Maria Taylor and The Deep Dark Woods. Consistently keeping such fine musical company, the band eventually caught the attention of Grammy-nominated producer Matt Goldman. At first, he seemed like an odd choice to helm One-Way Moon, but as soon as the sessions began, Goldman and Book Club fell right in step. “Matt usually records really technical prog-metal,” Horlick explains, “but he said the idea of recording a band with acoustic instruments—no click track, no crazy 7/8 time signatures—sounded like a nice change of pace.’”
The first day at Atlanta’s Glow in the Dark Studios, Goldman had all six musicians set up in one room facing each other. They tracked everything live. “He knew how to expertly manage that space,” says cellist and Book Club co-founder Matt Jarrard (Royal Thunder, Oryx & Crake). “Each of us was positioned so that we had a direct line of sight to every other band member—we could see and hear exactly what was happening at all times. You play differently in that setting. I’d always been about layering track after track, but this time, myself and Will Raines (Mastodon, West End Motel) were a live, two-piece string ensemble. It was beautiful, Bill Callahan-style—sinister and simple.”
Goldman’s approach on One-Way Moon was familiar for the band, who usually rehearse in the round in Horlick’s living room. Of course, with the close quarters and live tracking, it was impossible to avoid mic bleed—so the band had no choice but to keep all the would-be scratch vocals, stray sounds and rough-edged parts. In the end, these “mistakes” became an essential part of the record. “I’m a perfectionist, but I’m also a realist,” Horlick says. “I love the studio, and if someone tells me to, I’ll do 50 takes. But I like when there’s a trust between the artist and producer where you both say, ‘Well, we’ve got a great take in one of those three, let’s move on.’ We were about the freshness of it, and it felt good. We were a band, and we played the songs—no smoke, no mirrors.”
While Book Club’s sound might be classified as a subgenre of indie folk, they bristle at the comparison, or at least at what it’s come to convey. “I mean, occasionally, we have a banjo, but we’re not wearing vests and bolo ties,” Horlick says. “That kind of Portlandia-style indie-folk, the caravanning barista—it’s not really our thing. But we do let country in—we’re not afraid of it.”
In synch with that notion, Horlick describes his writing on One-Way Moon as “almost in the old-school country mode”—each song has a particular point to make, the verses reinforce the choruses, and the tales spun actually arrive at a conclusion. The new album also marks the first time in Book Club’s catalog—including the band’s full-length debut Ghost (2011) and its EP Shapes on the Water (2012)—that Horlick wrote specifically for the band’s female vocalist, who takes the lead on sultry Southern-gothic tune “However Can It Be?”
“I wanted Rachel to become the old chanteuse—the single spotlight in the smoky lounge,” Horlick says. “She has such a wonderful voice, so I tried to get outside of my head—‘What would a girl narrator say in this situation?’—and the song just came out. I was making my best attempt at Cole Porter-style philosophical badassery.”
As for the band’s curious, literature-inspired name? “My Mom was in a book club—everybody and their Mom was in a book club, so it was colloquial,” Horlick says. “Plus, I’ve always liked bands with ‘book’ in the name. It lowers expectations. No one’s gonna see ‘Book Club’ and think, ‘They’re gonna rock.’ No one is expecting fireworks. But I like that because then maybe you can prove ‘em wrong.”
Which is exactly what One-Way Moon does. It wins you over when you least expect it, the authentic music subtly working its way into your subconscious, unforced, unhurried—just like Book Club. “We’re not chasing any sound,” Horlick says. “We’re being true to what comes out of us. Hopefully that strikes a chord.”