“Letter,” the first track off “Letter Ghost,” the new album from Portland duo Blood Warrior and its first release in over four years, sounds like the beginning of a quest. The wanderers — or this case warriors — set off across the dusty plain. Co-songwriters Greg Jamie and Joey Weiss immediately set the scene: briskly strummed acoustic guitar, harmonium, reverb-drenched guitar and sparse percussion, like a Sergio Leone western that, instead of the desert, is set in the middle of January in Maine.
That sense of desolation is pervasive through “Letter Ghost,” seven tracks from Jamie, of the Brooklyn alt-folk band O’Death and former owner of the now-defunct Biddeford indie rock venue The Oak and the Ax, and Weiss, of the bands Super Monster and Lazy River. Like a long, cold winter, like the one we just had, it is it once cozy and inviting like a wood stove, and also raw and intimidating, like the woods in a blizzard. A breezy, easy summertime listen it is not.
Though “Letter Ghost” is nominally an indie rock record, it brings in trappings of many other musical styles, most notable in the percussion, mostly performed on single drums in the way that Celtic or Appalachian music is, or even as Native American music is. The guitar playing is particularly notable, like the shimmering, haunting “All Your Thoughts” or the delicate “Falling Rocks,” both of which feature guitar melodies played repeatedly, trance-like and primitive. Jamie’s vocals, reportedly recorded each in one take, are raw and shivery, as they are on his albums with O’Death — though here he really reigns it in, opting for a light, fragile, even sometimes whispered delivery. By the end, some of the frost begins to melt and the light begins to linger, with closing track “Ghost.”
The overall effect is one of melancholy — omnipresent, but not overwhelming, melancholy — and of a lo-fi, primitive atmosphere. According to Jamie and Weiss themselves, they recorded the entire album on a broken 8-track machine, mostly in Jamie’s former venue in Biddeford. In some ways, that lack of superficial trappings makes the album punk rock, rejecting just about everything in favor of honest emotion and stripped-down music. It will sound wonderful on a bright, cold winter morning in Maine.