It had been nearly a decade since singer/songwriter André Ethier released an album when he made his return with the raw and contemplative Under Grape Leaves in 2017. To hear Telephone Explosion Records founders Jonathan Schouten and Steve Sidoli tell it, his absence might have come from a planned project not meeting his standards. Now that he’s had time to regroup, Ethier has once again hit his creative stride.
Croak builds on the momentum of its predecessor, and it’s no coincidence that it covers similar stylistic ground – it’s a sequel, the second in a planned trilogy of albums, with Sandro Perri returning to once again handle production duties. Based on Perri’s own recent output, 2018’s In Another Life and 2019’s Soft Landing, the sparse instrumentation and laid-back synths frame Ethier’s voice as the focal point are undoubtedly his influence.
With the focus on Ethier’s words, it’s easy to be drawn into the world he embellishes. Opening track Dream On Pigs lulls with its lethargic drum-machine beat, soothing guitar and glowing synths, while he sings “I’ve got to get up now every day / get on that bus, and ride the snake.” The song encourages an escape from the drab routines of daily life to the humid air and lush greenery that Ethier evokes throughout the record, particularly on the instrumental title track that follows.
The title track comes second and it’s the album’s emphasis, acting as a strong counterpoint to the monochromatic picture painted by Ethier in the opener. The songs that follow delve deeper into the natural world, the dense and interlaced brush becoming metaphor for the thicket of interconnected existential ideas Ethier presents while singing about love and identity.
It’s the sound of Ethier digging in to the rich and rewarding world he built two years ago. Together, the two albums conspire to be the strongest, most engaging and compelling artistic vision he’s made.
Top track: Froggy