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There's an echelon of modern folk legends building their legacies in the state of Wisconsin. A cold expanse of rough roads, farmland fields, and glacial hills, the only wonder is that this folk renaissance didn't happen sooner. Perhaps these artists beavered away, like forest critters in hibernation, incubating in their shelters during the cold of winters. But as soon as Justin Vernon of Bon Iver broke down the doors with For Emma Forever Ago, a legend of an album in its own right, the Wisconsin folk scene seemed to regurgitate dozens of pristine and much-heralded folk acts.

Few of these acts have come as close to the prestige of Bon Iver as Chris Porterfield's Field Report. Field Report (a play on Porterfield's last name) rose from the ashes of DeYarmond Edison, an outfit that once featured Vernon, as well as a number of other musicians that would come to occupy the rogue gallery of folk acts springing like oil in a newly drilled well from the state. Following a critically-acclaimed first release, expectations for Marigolden, the act's sophomore offering, could certainly be lower. The timing for Marigolden is right. Fall season favors the wispy melancholy of Field Report's lyrical tracks. Gelid folk songs find themselves as at home in the canon of textures that adorn the season as Pumpkin Spice Lattés and crewneck sweaters, and the ones found here are no different. Porterfield weaves cryptic phrases and adages with imagery steeped in Americana cliché. Of course, it's no coincidence that the band's most recent clip for 'Home (Leave the Lights On)' prominently displayed the centermost icon in American pop-country: the pickup truck. Were the music not so savvy and devoid of the genre's more vapid frills, this album would be revealed for the pop-country masterpiece that it is.

The subtle twang in Porterfield's vocals mixes as impressively as ever with the classic acoustic instrumentals accented by electronic touches. The end result is a classic sound, inoffensive enough to find coverage in The Wall Street Journal, but subversive enough to avoid the scoffing that accompanies new releases from more commercially-friendly acts. This is a folk album that even the most basic Mumford and Sons fans can get behind without eliciting the groans of their more pretentious friends, and thank God for that. Whereas the band's self-titled debut was full of free-form laments on the industrial banality of Midwestern cities, the tracks on Marigolden sound much more traditional. Porterfield's lyrics are deceptively wiry here, still tired and sad, but in the resigned way that is usually reserved for songwriters much closer to the grave than he. Most songwriters in his age bracket would be too hip to toss in a line like "The body remembers what the mind forgets," yet here it is. And the forlorn twist at the end of album stand-out Michelle is the kind of sucker punch that Justin Vernon could never pull off amidst his foggy abstractions.

And unlike the group's heavy self-titled release, there's air to breathe here. 'Home (Leave the Lights On)' is bright, upbeat, and wispy. By providing the occasional breath of air, the suffocating brooding that fills the rest of the album seems more grounded, less whiney. The track, which even finds a more subdued refrain in the title track, which in turn finds its name from a line held within. Time is a flat circle, and much like Rust Cohle, Field Report just seems to get it. What is it? I have no idea, but finally, here's a folk act that can navigate emotions between jangling stoner joy or brooding suicidal wretch without being consumed by either. With what seems such a surefire recipe for success, it's a wonder that the music still seems altruistic. Perhaps this altruism is the hallmark that binds the band and its Partisan compatriots Phox and Sylvan Esso, each with roots in the Wisconsin folk scene and each with their own warmly received releases this year. Either way, the label sure seems to know how to pick 'em, and Marigolden is yet another triumph, not only for Partisan but for the frozen tundra of America's Midwest.


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