Modern Merchant Creates Layers of Harmony on 'For the Fields' EP

You don’t hear a lot of clarinet in rock ‘n’ roll, but there it is, winding its way through “Marry Me Annie” on Modern Merchant’s new EP, “For the Fields.” Although part of the Brooklyn indie band released a three-song demo in 2011, “For the Fields” is the full group’s proper debut, and it’s a promising one at that.

The quartet — John Parson, Mike Skaggs, Jesse Stanford and Sydney Weiss — plays lush, low-key songs structured around bobbing waves of melody. Singer Parson surrounds his understated voice with dreamy layers of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, adding touches like the clarinet on “Marry Me Annie” or trebly spikes of guitar on “Like-Minded.” A wash of noise swells up behind his vocals on “Unending Afterthought,” and a descending whistling part evokes Andrew Bird on the slow spiraling title track.

“For the Fields” is bookended by a pair of songs that encapsulate everything Modern Merchant does well. Opener “When the Markets Crash” makes excellent use of space, piling up layers of wordless vocals over an ebb-and-flow beat that occasionally recedes to leave Parson’s voice standing alone. On the back end, closing song “Necessary Evil” emphasizes a bold rhythm that dissolves into a warm, drifting expanse of guitars and harmony vocals on the refrain.

What Modern Merchant needs, now that the band has released a compelling studio recording, is to follow it up sooner, rather than later. It’s one thing to leave listeners wanting more, as long as you don’t leave them waiting too long.

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