￼CURTAINS RAISE ON A WORLD BUILT BY BRYAN JOHN APPLEBY:
A SLEEPY CALIFORNIA TOWN WHERE BELLS SWIRL ON THE BREEZE AND ELECTRIC ORGANS TREMBLE WITH THE SURF. WASHED OUT STOREFRONT SIGNS LINE THE ROADSIDE. TEENAGERS, AWAKENING TO THE POSSIBILITY OF LIFE AWAY FROM HOME, TAKE LONG FOGGY DRIVES UP THE COAST. THE BURIED BONES OF LONG-AGO INHABITANTS TELL OF IMPENDING DISASTER—ONE OF MANY SIGNS THAT SOMETHING IS SCRATCHING JUST BELOW THE SURFACE.
WELCOME TO THE NARROW VALLEY.
Captive to a nagging curiosity, Appleby found himself moving away from the Northwest folk that was familiar to him and toward a decidedly more winding path. That path has taken him onward to a kind of florid, maximalist pop songwriting that recalls the weird geniuses of decades past—toward songs painted with the lush greens, ominous blues, and glowing reds of the Central Coast.
For much of the time since 2011’s naked-hearted folk scroll Fire on the Vine, Appleby’s been cloistered up working on The Narrow Valley. During that time, he craned to borrow from the school of songwriter/composers who, like himself, once stalked the west coast—otherworldly talents like Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, and Randy Newman—as well as rococo film composers such as Les Baxter and Ennio Morricone. (a particular flash of insight came while watching Dumbo on Netflix.)
As the songs came together, Appleby embarked on a journey, with producer Sam Anderson, to capture the evasive sounds floating around in his head. Sometimes, the two holed up in Anderson's South Seattle studio. Other times, they took trips around the region with a portable recording rig, collecting the sounds of B3 organ, timpani, marimba, and grand piano. They enlisted an exhaustive cast of musicians, including friends from local bands, Seattle orchestra members, and veteran session players. The process was rarely easy. Ambitious bites were taken, only to be chewed painfully slow. Sometimes, the pair would scrap a full day’s session. It had to be right. And after two years, the results of the pair's hard work showed themselves, as a transcendent whole began to materialize.
And thus arrives The Narrow Valley, combining baroque California pop and the stranger sounds of childhood TV sets with Appleby's deep sense of the cinematic, yielding an off-kilter world that parallels our own. In one way, at least, The Narrow Valley tells Appleby’s story, too: a story about a rigid world breaking open to reveal curious and wonderful new possibilities.