'Last Flight Out' Review: Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding soar high on this shimmering & soul-stirring EP
'Last Flight Out' is an emotional ride that takes you through some plunging human depths and incredible euphoric highs thanks to some exceptionally gifted musicians
With a career spanning 27 years, the Chicago songwriter Steve Dawson’s musical journey has cast deep and wide footprints over time. Having spent most of his career fronting Dolly Varden with his partner and creative collaborator Diane Christiansen, his current ensemble project Funeral Bonsai Wedding sees Dawson explore a wholly different set of soundscapes and lyrical ideas.
Their gorgeous new EP 'Last Flight Out', has been six years in the making, but it promises to make an immediate impression on the listener.
Back in 2014, Diane Christiansen was working on numerous other creative projects that included art installations and animation shorts. While creating videos like ‘Familiar’ and ‘Notes to Nonself’, she turned to her husband Steve Dawson for the music. Somewhere during this time, the seeds of Funeral Bonsai Wedding were sown. For the curious, Dawson claims to have gotten the band name on a bus ride through Chicago, their hometown.
The words ‘Funeral’, ‘Bonsai’, ‘Wedding’ were plastered on the window of a florist he was passing by and the striking name just stuck.
Accompanying Dawson on this project are Chicago free jazz stalwarts like Jason Roebke on bass, Charles Rumback on drums, and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphones. Their sound is further enhanced by the incredible string ensemble, Quartet Parapluie, who add an orchestral quality and glistening hue to the music.
While Dolly Varden is generally known for their poppy-yet-rootsy Americana, Funeral Bonsai Wedding’s 'Last Flight Out' is a picturesque, heady, symphonic affair. Right out the gate, we have the title track 'Last Flight Out', where Dawson seems to lament the sense of a collective ending that he feels we are inevitably creating as a people. “With climate change, global rage and violence, the undoing of the fabric of society it feels like an ending.
This song feels like an acknowledgment of the situation,” feels Dawson. Despite its somewhat bleak nature, the twinkling string ensemble and vibraphones keep the song from crossing over into overtly melancholy territory. Think of it as a different take on 'Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth...' if you're a Steven Wilson fan.
'Mastodons' is a much harder pill to swallow, with lyrics that again seem to lament a personal journey that one must make after having died in a certain sense. Reminiscent of Nick Urata/DeVotchka, Dawson summons a resonating beauty out of the depths of his melancholia. This track can be heard in its earliest state, as far back as 2014, where it features heavily in Christiansen and Matt Marsden’s animations for ‘Notes to Nonself’.
With the next song, Dawson paints an entirely different and heartwarming picture. With what could soon become a staple on wedding playlists the world over, ‘However Long it Takes’ has Dawson literally brimming over with sentimentality, with lyrics like “I will be filled with love.” In his own words, “This song is an intention to greet others with love and kindness with however much time there is left.”
This heartfelt song really meshes the varied musical elements of the band wonderfully well, and it is destined to become a fan-favorite.
This is followed by the thirty-two-second orchestral flourish, ‘Parapluie de Roebke.’ The title appears to be a nod to Quartet Parapluie and the bassist Jason Roebke, who takes up string arrangement duties for most songs on the EP.
‘The Monkey Mind is on the Prowl’, has a quirky, interesting title and is easily the strangest, most beautiful track on this album. It is hard not to draw comparisons to Andrew Bird and his work with Bowl of Fire, with both the music and lyrics creating a lullaby that is childish, yet profound and magical.
‘While We Were Staring Into our Palms' is a highly cinematic ode to the times we live in. Dawson paints both a picture of our times and what it might take to undo it. Artistes who are interested in creating alluring covers of Funeral Bonsai Wedding songs would do best to cover this beautiful track.
The captivating 'It’s Not What You Think' is easily the most personal song on this EP. With lyrics like “There is no poker face for me,” Dawson bares himself, owning up to his mistakes and frailties. It's almost like he is apologizing for the person he is, warts and all, but therein lies the beauty of the human condition.
All in all, 'Last Flight Out' is an incredibly emotional, thought-provoking ride that takes you through some plunging human depths & soaring euphoric highs. While it is Dawson who stakes claim to the well-crafted songwriting, the sheer passion and talent on display by the Funeral Bonsai Wedding collective is what makes this such a magnificent listening experience. Jason Adasiewicz shines throughout, as most of these songs bring the vibraphones to the fore and use it almost as a lead instrument.
The addition of Quartet Parapluie’s strings give the songs a soul-stirring quality, as their ebbs and swells weave all the sounds perfectly together. Funeral Bonsai Wedding is a band to watch out for in the future, with 'Last Flight Out' succeeding in leaving its very own strange and beautiful mark.
Come May 22, you can also catch a live stream release show of the 'Last Flight Out' EP on Facebook - you can catch up with that by clicking here.