No time of year is quite so bittersweet as August. It’s a hedonistic time of year, still offering the frivolous joys of summer, peaking in temperatures while clothing requirements hit their absolute minimum, and nothing tastes better than a cold beer. But it’s also transitional, with those giddy, carefree times inevitably proving finite, and responsibility and winter’s chill lurking just around the corner. For some of us, this is more of a theoretical transition than anything; seasons don’t mean quite as much when you grow up and get a job. But the idea remains. Even if summer exists primarily outside the office window, it represents the promise of escape, albeit one that, once it happens, inevitably must come to an end.
Gold Leaves’ Hardly Art debut, The Ornament, captures this transitional period magnificently. The new project of Grant Olsen, also of Seattle duo Arthur & Yu, Gold Leaves plays the kind of music that evokes a sweet kind of melancholy, the kind that arises from summer sunsets and long goodbyes. But it’s also a very beautiful kind of melancholy. Produced by Papercuts’ Jason Quever, The Ornament is an extraordinarily lush affair, rich with lap steel and a warm glow of reverb, resulting in a surprisingly ample affair from one solitary performer (aside from the odd guest musician).
Olsen captures a gorgeous sadness in leadoff track “The Silver Lining,” one of the album’s most impeccably crafted tunes. Working from the Beach House blueprint of organ and guitar, Olsen (with help from Quever’s studio maneuvers, no doubt) manages to make a fairly simple ballad arrangement sound positively gigantic. It’s a wondrous standout, fit for repeated slow dances at the end of the night when the party’s over and the alcohol hasn’t yet worn off. Yet The Ornament has its more upbeat moments as well, most notably the excellent title track, which doesn’t escape Olsen’s somber mood but does offer the slightest bit of optimism, as he sings, “I know/ As time goes/ there’ll be lights on my home.”
Every corner of The Ornament presents a balance of grace and sadness, which is perhaps best heard in the right mood, but impressive throughout all the same. But as summer’s final few weeks slowly fade into the past, there’s no better soundtrack than this to watch them disappear.
Stream: Gold Leaves – “The Ornament”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.