Sitting alone on the floor of the empty living room in our new rental house, I found myself combing my computer—one of the only possessions I had at the moment—for a connection to something, someone. My husband, my kids, and I just experienced an unexpected whirlwind move to another state. We had thought our prior move was going to be final; we’d positioned ourselves close to family, had stable jobs, and were living “the good life.” In many ways, we had what we’d always thought we wanted, that we had arrived.
But here I was in a town I hadn’t heard of three months before, finding solace in the only friend I had: my technology. When I saw the little red box on a social media site alerting me that I had a message, I opened it and found a request. Would I be interested in writing a music review and might I have a listen to the album? I clicked on the link and immediately felt more at home in the stark, dusty space I was bearing with until my furniture arrived.
The album was The Giants and Pilgrims’ new record Becoming, an indie folk compilation with a raw sound that invites me as a listener to participate in two journeys—that of songwriter and vocalist Tim Coons, and my own.
The distance I have wandered,The fabric torn asunder,You’ll come into your own,You’ll come into your own
I can relate to these lyrics. I have wandered a long distance, moving twenty-three times in my life for various reasons, always hopeful that this place is where I’ll find it. I’ll be settled and get to live my perfect life, and yet it never happens that way. Anyone can fall into the line of thinking: “Once X happens, I’ll be fulfilled.” Maybe it’s earning a degree, finding a spouse, building a dream home, winning a race or writing a hit song. But once you achieve that goal, what’s left? The new Giants and Pilgrims album grapples with that question.
Northern Colorado-based Tim and Betony Coons are the married couple behind the Giants & Pilgrims name; Betony is a visual artist and Tim a musician. Together, as a couple, they create. This year they’re adding a descriptive tag-line for further clarity—Giants & Pilgrims: A Marriage of Art & Music. Betony has a new collection of paintings she’ll release starting on the same day as the album and focusing on the same message—becoming.
With themes of the sacred, love, and the evolving definition of arrival, Giants & Pilgrims newest album is thankfully not prototypical of much of what is on the radio these days, avoiding kitschy lyrics and formulaic melodies. It is both reminiscent of a past era—it has an interspersed Simon and Garfunkel vibe—and representative of modern folk—think Sufjan Stevens or Fleet Foxes. The album is worshipful without being cliche, includes repetition without being boring and is decidedly, as one of Foundling House’s editors put it, “A breath of fresh air.”
My family has met Tim a couple times at a family camp for boutique music lovers. He’s immediately warm and honest, engaging and vulnerable. This album takes on his persona. The instrumentation is simple but powerful, eschewing fancy production for warmth and raw beauty. It allows for Tim’s songwriting to shine through, and his songwriting deserves center stage. He strikes that ever elusive balance of writing melodies that sound fresh and unpredictable, yet are pleasing and memorable. Tim’s unique and clear tenor is pastoral. Listening to him sing is like listening to a good friend give you advice that you need to hear.
The interplay of the album’s musicians makes it sound like a community of talented friends getting together for a little late night pickin’ and grinnin’, which is not too far from the truth. The musicians on the album are indeed Tim’s good friends, and they share home-cooked meals from the Coons’ kitchen where, apparently, Betony’s creative side spills over. Tim shared about the interplay of the organic recording process.
“Rather than doing a studio experience where you pay a lot of money for two days and everyone is stressed,” he said, “I went the lo-fi route: recording at home with a cheap mic and having friends over for dinner… then go to a quiet room and track them… It was an incredible experience.
“And it gave me time with the songs. I could track the guitar and vocal, then I could just play around with the arrangements. Does this song need a violin? I have a friend who plays violin! She should come over and make this happen. It made the process of recording easy and joyful.”
The new album mimics the raw sound found in Frailty, the G&P release from 2012. The opening tune, “Boxing Shadows,” is a rhythmic proclamation that stands as the keynote of the anthology.
You’re boxing shadows;You’re not the heroOf great renown.There’s room to grow.
In Coon’s words: “The new album comes from a central idea. When I was young, I couldn’t dream very far. My projections were one day I’d have a wife and kids and be a musician. Well, I have all that now. Am I done growing up? Am I all wise and coasting from here on out? I have ‘arrived’ haven’t I?
“It was a nice surprise to know we never stop growing up. It’s never all figured out. We are still in that process of ‘becoming’ who we’re meant to be, because, though the body may slow down and stop, the soul never does. It’s always dynamic.”
Though all of the songs bring merit to the compilation, there are several highlights.
“Ghosts for Tinder” shines with a driving, almost two step beat and major to minor melodic twists propelled forward by the violin.
“Please Cover Me” is prayerful, ethereal, and evoked visions of stain-glassed windows with streaming sun beams—and it ends with one of Coon’s daughter’s voices recorded from a toy phone. His other daughter’s voice can be heard on “Will You Stay.”
Tim explains, “In one instance Harriet (3) was listening to a recording of her older sister, Lucy (6), on a toy phone. You can hear Harriet emulating what Lucy is saying over and over.
“Someone asked me once about Harriet’s speech, ‘Does Hattie have trouble with her R’s?’ and my response was, ‘Well, yes. And her P’s and T’s and G’s and S’s…’ We stopped pointing it out months ago after Hattie said, ‘Lucy talks pretty and I don’t.’
“So here she was, practicing. Listening to her older sister and working on it, whether she was conscious of that or not. To me it was a great picture of ‘becoming’—taking steps, being courageous, going further.
“Then the last song actually came out of a jam Lucy and I were doing with a toy keyboard and her tracking herself several times in GarageBand.”
“Sunrise, Sunrise, Sunrise” offers hopeful prose; the violin and keys add depth for a rich experience. “I Have Waited For You” is soulful and sincere; Mumford-loving Millennials have the perfect new option for a wedding song, even though it was written about God.
In an age where many music lovers opt for digital purchases, this is an album to consider getting an actual hard copy. Betony Coons’ piece Becoming an Artist graces the album cover; according to Tim, “the work just sang,” and fit the theme perfectly.
We’ve now been in our rental house a few weeks, and I have the benefit of a couch as I listen to music. I’m still digesting the album and it has spoken more to me each time I hear it. The point is to be open to a progressive transformation of our lives and ourselves, to never settle for what we can imagine this side of heaven. There’s room to grow. Always. As the Coons suggest, we’ve never really arrived, even when we attain what we imagined in the past. We should embrace being molded by the great Artist no matter our season in life—never becoming stagnant, but instead continually renewed.
Becoming invites the listener to continue on their own journey. Each song serves as another stone shaping the cairn that this album is, beckoning us to walk forward, beyond what we thought was possible to wherever the trail may take us—while illuminating that such travel is best experienced with God, community, and good music.
Becoming is available in hard copy and digital starting Tuesday, October 6, 2015. Both Tim’s music and Betony’s art are accessible at Giantsandpilgrims.com.