Album Review: Giants in the Trees

What do you do after you’ve peaked? The idea of reaching your zenith in life prematurely and having nowhere to go but down is a terrifying thought. In the musical realm, many artists feel this fear acutely when releasing follow-ups to hit records. Can they maintain the momentum from their first hit and stay relevant, or will their music fade into obscurity? Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana faced this dilemma when their hugely successful band came to an abrupt halt with the death of frontman Kurt Cobain. Post-Nirvana, Grohl continues his run at the top of the music industry captaining the Foo Fighters, perhaps the most successful current rock band, while Novoselic fell off the map with smaller acts, most recently the group Giants in the Trees. 

Tucked away in the Grays River farming community near the southern border of Washington state, Giants in the Trees is a four-piece outfit that had its unlikely origin from jam sessions after local Grange meetings. Jilian Raye takes the reins as vocalist and contributes bass and banjo to the band’s rich texture, while Ray Prestegard gives the group it’s old-school folk sensibilities with his blusey slide guitar playing. Krist Novoselic provides additional bass and accordion that livens up the atmosphere, and Erik Friend’s barebones percussion grooves add a confident swagger to the group sound. As the only four that regularly attended those Grange jam sessions, their group chemistry was pure coincidence, but it didn’t take long until they took full advantage and released their self-titled debut album Giants in the Trees in 2017. 

The only way to describe Giants’ style is if Appalachian folk musicians traveled forward in time from the 1800s to join up with a modern indie rock group. The resulting fusion of aesthetics feels incredibly fresh and unique, where the band feels rural, but in a Pacific Northwest kind of way that infuses their music with a free-spirited hippie vibe. Singer Jilian Raye is at least partially responsible for this type of flower power energy on occasions where she wears a floral chaplet during performances. “Ode to Pacific Anarchism” sums up the group’s philosophy, both in the allusive title and in the lyrics when Raye can be heard exclaiming “Love, love, love!” This zealous, non-conformist attitude is expressed by all Giants members in their fashion sense. Through the music alone, one can picture their antique, rustic and generally eccentric styles. Other tracks like “Sasquatch” and “Seed Song” emphasize their tongue-in-cheek Northwestern agrarian sensibilities. Truthfully, the lyrics — usually washed out with reverb — are rarely the focal point of the band’s music. Instead, Giants in the Trees are all about exuding their sense of fun and bravado, and this album is bursting at the seams with both. 

Compare Giants in the Trees with Dave Grohl’s band, the Foo Fighters. The Foo Fighters may well be the crown jewel of Dave Grohl’s illustrious career, proving that he has the talent to stay relevant after Nirvana. But the Foo Fighter’s gargantuan success over the last few decades comes at a cost, where in order to be accessible to so many fans, their music is often mainstream. In contrast, Krist Novoselic fell out of relevancy after Nirvana, staying almost entirely off the music industry’s radar. But existing in the underground may actually be a point of pride for Giants. Their unusual style is not for everyone, but it proves that they are a band that steps to their own beat and creates the music they feel is fulfilling, which makes their liveliness on this album contagious. If you ever catch yourself worrying that you’ve already peaked, take a page out of Giants’ book and try to tap into your own individualistic spirit. There are many paths to success, and the most rewarding ones aren’t always as conspicuous as the Foo Fighters.