According to songwriter and guitarist Rob Cimitile, the name of his band — Builder of the House — is a reference to a passage in a Buddhist parable about the root of human suffering. That’s some fairly heady, spiritual weight to attach immediately to the band, comprised of Cimitile, a Connecticut native who has lived in Maine for the past five years, and drummer Elliot Heeschen.
Although the first track on Builder of the House’s second EP, “Hourglass,” makes use of both ukuleles and a wordless singalong chorus featuring the spritely vocals of Colleen Clark — pretty and upbeat, yes, but done by others many times before — the lyrics tell a different story, about self-identity, mortality and the passage of time. Perhaps that’s what makes “Hourglass” so appealing; intelligent, well-played, often irresistibly catchy indie folk, concealing a philosophical and spiritual moodiness and a certain dark narrative, like Jack Johnson and Sufjan Stevens were shut in a room together and told to write a song.
And “There Is No Hourglass, Only Sand,” that first track, is the outlier on “Hourglass,” the rest of which is comprised of dusky, slower-paced folk, tinged with Americana and a less overtly radio-friendly approach. That’s not to say it’s not accessible; it certainly is. For instance, “Trespassers,” though lyrically telling the tale of two doomed people attempting to cross the border somewhere in New Mexico, is melodic and lovely, subdued and restrained for most of the song, until a beautifully arranged bridge brings in horns and strings to bring it to a satisfying crescendo. “A Plot in Falmouth,” track three, is exactly what one might expect to hear if Calexico wrote a Maine sea shanty — trust me, it works, despite the vast geographical and cultural distances between the western desert and the rocky coast of Maine. It’s nice to hear traditional storytelling in a song from a local songwriter; Cimitile knows how to weave a compelling lyrical and musical tale.
“Hourglass” wraps up with “This Is The End of Our Correspondence,” which starts out as a wistfully strummed ode to lost love before segueing into a jaunty waltz-time and then switching back and forth between the two. Heeschen’s elegant percussion work is perfectly complimentary to Cimitile’s playing; you can tell the two musicians have spent a lot of time working out a careful dynamic, each one holding back when the other moves ahead, building a uniquely eloquent sound and story.
Builder of the House will play a record release party for “Hourglass,” on Saturday, May 2 at the Space Gallery in Portland, with guests Jeff Beam and Maine Marimba Ensemble. “Hourglass” is available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. I recommend watching the above music video. It’s very good.