Garden state of mind: Andrew Cedermark’s ode to transience

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Former member of Titus Andronicus (and one-time C-VILLE Weekly arts editor), Andrew Cedermark reaches confidently into new musical territory on Home Life. Publicity photo. Former member of Titus Andronicus (and one-time C-VILLE Weekly arts editor), Andrew Cedermark reaches confidently into new musical territory on Home Life. Publicity photo.

For the past five years, Andrew Cedermark has consistently made some of the best and most vital rock music around: unpretentious and exuberant, quiet yet confident, messy and triumphant. But his career path has been a strange one, with several unexpected twists and turns, a story that is still being told as he cautiously finds his way.

He played his first proper concert in Charlottesville in May of 2008, the same night he graduated from UVA, backed by a band that (with characteristic indecisiveness) was called either Iron Ore or Witch Elms, depending on which band member you asked. It was shockingly good, and caught the attention of everyone in attendance. It was that band’s only show.

Cedermark immediately relocated to his home state of New Jersey and rejoined his high school buddies as the guitarist for Titus Andronicus, a group that has gained attention and success in recent years for their blend of Springsteen-esque anthemic sprawl and punk energy. But Cedermark’s sensibilities seemed an odd fit for that band, and he grew frustrated with the stresses of touring life. He eventually returned to Charlottesville to focus on his own material, which has little in common with the band that put him on the radar of both buzz blogs and the major music media. (He also worked for C-VILLE Weekly from 2009-2011, during which time he was the author of this column; in the spirit of transparency, I should note that Andrew is a good friend, for whom I have designed unused record covers and offered unsolicited and unhelpful music advice.)

Andrew Cedermark’s solo material is less bombastic and overbearing than Titus Andronicus, more subtle and thoughtful, and equally loud. His singing style is a shy mumble that occasionally builds to a voice-cracking yell, a low-key delivery that contrasts perfectly with the confidence and sureness of his playing. He usually seems happiest letting the guitar speak for him, loosely strumming raw chords that overtake the lyrics, climaxing in sublime crescendos that test the limits of his gear and the fidelity of his recording equipment. Though the songs stay at ballad tempo, they build to plateaus of gorgeous intensity, handcrafted anthems that are at once approachable and overwhelming.

2010’s Moon Deluxe was his proper debut, released on the cultishly adored Underwater Peoples label (also home to his hometown confederates, Real Estate). Mostly self-recorded in GarageBand with his laptop’s built-in mic over a period of several years, mixing and matching material that had previously surfaced on home-made tapes, compilations, and small-run singles, Moon Deluxe was an instant classic that combined the romantic reverb of Galaxie 500, the twangy chops of Neil Young, and the understated gentleness and lo-fi grit of The Microphones. It didn’t win over every Titus fan, but it did win accolades from many who had never been thrilled about that band in the first place (this author included).

The record was successful enough to give him a leg up on a potential career as a professional musician, but Cedermark seemed cautious of his early success, accepting compliments sheepishly, shying away from the shameless self-promotion of many aspiring musicians of his generation, and hanging onto his day job as a reporter. (He relocated to Jersey once again to write for a daily paper in 2011.) When asked about the transition to making more music rather than writing about it he said, “If we are to assume that shifting from writing about other people to being written about is a step forward in life, then it feels good. Writing about other people’s art forced me to be critical of my own, so in that way it feels like things have come full circle.”

Cedermark is an introvert, and his discomfort on stage is transparently obvious; he apologizes between every song, and often lets guitar feedback ring loudly while regrouping or tuning, partly to cover the need for stage banter. But this lack of ego is utterly endearing, and what he lacks in stage presence he more than makes up for in his talents and abilities, a winning combination that allows him to take risks as a performer, channeling a wild, nervous energy that turn his concerts into essential and thrilling experiences, keeping everyone on their toes.

Shows that could be reputation-cementing career-builders are just as often sidelined by strange whims. A typical example is the would-be hometown victory lap that found him sitting alone at the edge of the Tea Bazaar’s stage, fumbling his way through a set of sloppy Sinatra covers whose lyrics he had printed out from the Internet moments before plugging in, utterly bewildering a gathering crowd of youngsters who had heard his music for the first time on Pitchfork the previous afternoon. Many of them mistook him for an opening act.

Whether Cedermark throws a curveball, or—as is increasingly the case—plays it straight, every concert is an aesthetic success, an opportunity to hear a fantastically talented individual throw caution to the wind and play tremendously satisfying music with rough edges to keep it alive and crackling with infectious energy. It may be loud and loose, but it swings confidence and purpose.

Home Life is his sophomore offering, and though he’s now relocated to New York City, the album cover bears the image of his former Woolen Mills residence. Like the debut, it was recorded piecemeal, with the help of two separate backing bands (his original Charlottesville-forged rhythm section of Kevin Haney and Jacob Wolf, and a second group of his fellow Northeasterners, Alex Tretiak and Sarim Al-Rawi). But the seams don’t show. Like Moon Deluxe, it mimics the medley-style format of his live shows, each side flowing from one song to the next, with even more confidence and polish.

The A-side opener is another surprise, an unlikely (yet brilliant) cover of the Bill Withers classic “Lean On Me,” and several tracks quote lines from the work of Michael Hurley (another Cedermark hero), but the borrowed material is effortlessly interwoven with Cedermark’s own writing. The B-side is more confident than anything he’s done so far, synthesizing many of the band’s strengths into a cohesive whole, while giving everything room to breathe. The professional studio production allows a clear view of the material while retaining the trademark shambling, understated charm.

Home Life will be released by Underwater Peoples on July 16, and Cedermark’s latest touring line-up (which combines members of both in-studio backing bands) will play the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on Saturday, July 20. The cover charge is $7 and the show begins at 9pm.

 

Share your stories about Charlottesville-influenced music below…

  • Cathy Harding

    Look up the word mensch and you’ll see Andrew’s face in the dictionary. Not only is he an outstanding and confoundingly humble musician, he’s a good citizen and a deep thinker. It was a privilege to work with him and it’s a delight to listen to his tunes.

  • Wha? Chinango

    Plenty of charming moments there. Better engineering/mixing wouldn’t be amiss; there’s a surfeit of cymbal wash. Thanks for the review and selection.

  • james

    WC – might be worthwhile to note that the clip above is from his first album (the one he home-recorded on his laptop); the new record sounds a lot cleaner.

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