For almost a decade, Callow has been perfecting their palette of foreboding, spectral tunes that seem to emanate from somewhere in the darkest heart of the woods. Like Castanets, Fletcher Tucker, Six Organs of Admittance, and other artists of this ilk, they’ve carved out an idiosyncratic space—sometimes pigeonholed as “freak folk”—that conjures a certain kind of sylvan mysticism. Their work is like a subterranean dimension that exists beneath familiar mainstreamed neo-folk: atmospheric lamentations of woe cut with wistfulness.

Oakland may be a little distant from the black, mountainous treescapes their music evokes, but Sammy Knowles and Red Moses haven’t lost their tonal connection to the roots of the forest. Mothdust, their newest full-length, has a cavernous sound courtesy of Oakland’s Ancient Owl Audio, that’s well-suited to the haunting imagery explicit and implicit in their work. (Engineer Brandon Eggleston is also known for his work with the Mountain Goats and Swans).

Over the course of Mothdust’s eight tracks, Knowles lays down thunderous drums that in some songs, like “Wonder” and “Go Down,” move beyond timekeeping beats or ambient accompaniment and build, in lockstep with Moses’s searing guitar work, into full-on doom riffs. Across the album, jangling piano intersects with sheets of guitar chords and reedy cello, generating decibel peaks and valleys that are bridged by the duo’s world-weary vocals. And Pall Jenkins of the Black Heart Procession and Three Mile Pilot pops up on “Always About The Ones Who Have It All” playing singing saw.

These are great moments, and the heavier elements in particular are a bit of an expansion for this atmospheric band. They explored some similar riff-like ideas on 2014’s Blue Spells, and all their previous releases have a certain degree of grit, but their confidence and chops are really on display here.

In “A Vein,” Moses breaks into a visceral wail: “There’s a vein screaming in your system / Beauty is the world, god / Unless you’re vain, it’s all arranged.” It is indeed a stark and beautiful world that Callow has arranged on Mothdust; the album rewards a deep, uninterrupted listen that lets one simmer in the gloom for a while.

Keep an eye out for Mothdust’s vinyl release and Callow’s upcoming shows. On July 12, Callow will open for Witch Mountain and Brume at Bottom of the Hill.

Witch Mountain, Brume, Callow
Bottom of the Hill
July 12, 2018
9pm, $12