Thad Kopec spreads his wings

“The Shadow and the Caster” leaves the singer-songwriter’s former style far behind.

Maxwell Heilman, Writer

Thad Kopec set himself apart with a more cinematic approach to Nashville-style indie folk since 2012’s “Heart of Man” and the EPs “Nobel Neighbor” and “The Ridge.” His knack for building soundscapes and arrangements elevated reserved guitar, piano and vocals far beyond the status quo. “The Shadow and the Caster” sees Kopec shed his singer-songwriter persona as he travels further outside the box.

A cinematic approach

“Shadow…” begins with its second longest track: “In The Days of the Comet.” This track, and the sprawling album single “I Beg,” encapsulate the quantum leap Kopec has taken with this record. The former begins and ends with a foreboding piano line supported by synth and violins before Kopec’s breathy voice and acoustic guitar reign things back. Glitchy effects, washed-out synth pads and bowed guitars immerse the listener as washy cymbal work creeps into the mix. Amazingly Kopec’s voice ties together the song’s distinct movements, which include spacious post-rock and bouncy folk.

“I Beg” tops the opener with its incredibly varied array of styles. Clarinets and flutes begin the track with Celtic stylings over an evolving 6/8 drum pattern and finger-picked guitars, with Kopec’s soothingly strong voice weaving literary narratives through his phrasing and inflections. As his website clarifies, storytelling has its own place in his expression, which in turn makes his lyrics as mesmeric as his music. This track juxtaposes Sigur Rós-esque orchestral choruses and stripped-down verses, creating beautiful emotional contrasts and astounding shifts in mood. What seems like the apex build up unexpectedly drops into a face-breaking synth groove. Even with a hard-hitting electric guitar riff and half-time groove, Kopec still inserts Celtic vocal reprisals, which harmoniously land the song in cushioning synth drones. Even in this unpredictable format, Kopec leaves nuanced traces of his roots.

The other 10 tracks, although comparatively straightforward, still offer plenty of innovation. “Half Moon / Distant Shore” shakes things up with strummed guitar and energetic percussion, but he still avoids the norm with harrowing synths and an explosive solo section over dreary strings and catchy vocal melodies. Even when “Shadow…” settles Kopec’s more familiar sound, an undeniable aura of experimentalism pervades throughout its runtime.

Hypnotic intensity

Except the lushly layered ambience of “Interlude,” “Shadow…” consistently harkens back to Kopec’s essence in assuaging folk, but continues elaborating on his raw talent. Even the brief “Cavern Creek Rhythm” — which remains starkly within his foundational style — sports a modulative curveball. Each track adds the perfect flavor to a bountiful feast. Whether it be the full-bodied bass chords and refindly earthy drums of “Second Best” or “Death Forgets Me’s” vintage electric guitar strains and hypnotic intensity, perfectly arranged instruments and sounds allow his work to blossom.

Although they boil down to similar essentials, every track on “Shadow…” brandishes a unique identity. “Cedars of Lebanon’s” brilliant use of counter-meter and brass instruments exemplifies this wonderfully along with the ghostly timbres and slow-motion rim clicks in “Borges,” but the LP’s succinctness comes full circle. “Final Task”and “Yggdrasil” manage to stand completely apart through the former’s sprawling atmosphere and the latter’s rapturous female vocals and delicate arpeggios, but somehow maintain Kopec’s picturesque intimacy and lyrical dramatism.

With the enveloping and staggeringly colossal “Earthly Hollows,” Thad Kopec concludes “The Shadow and the Caster” and solidifies himself at the vanguard of folk music. While one could still break down his music down to a homey campfire anthem, his majestic ornamentations allow his music to transcend labels and become a definite statement.

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