Trees At Night by Fine China (Review)

Those expecting more pouty ’80s-esque pop may be disappointed, but for the more atmospherically minded, it’s pure, shimmering bliss.
Trees At Night - Fine China

When I mention Fine China, what comes to mind? Well, if you’ve heard any of their releases, be it 2000’s When the World Sings or 2018’s Not Thrilled, then it’s probably immaculate pop music inspired by classic ’80s sounds, be it New Order’s dance-y grooves or The Smiths’ winsome mopery.

Trees At Night certainly contains more of the same, at least as far as the title track is concerned. (It was originally released back in 2020 in preparation for a tour with The Ocean Blue.) But the remaining two tracks quickly diverge into airier, more ambient territory that clearly hearkens back to the New Age records that frontman Rob Withem heard as a kid.

“Eyes At Night” is all glassy synth tones and arpeggios, mixed with the nocturnal sounds of crickets chirping and the distant rumble of thunder. Those expecting more pouty, breathy ’80s-esque pop might be disappointed, but for the more atmospherically minded among us, it’s pure, shimmering bliss. That being said, there’s a decidedly retro flavor to the band’s synthesizer arrangements that’s not synthwave à la Makeup and Vanity Set or Timecop 1983, but rather, gentler and more contemplative.

The EP winds down with the epic thirteen-minute “Eyes At Dawn,” which unfolds over the course of several movements. In this case, “epic” means synths that slowly build from mere wisps and dreamy melodies to towering notes over the course of several minutes, before segueing into crashing drums and searing guitar riffs that represent Fine China at their most psychedelic to date.

To be honest, I don’t know where Trees At Night fits into the broader Fine China catalog. Is it just a one-off experiment, an opportunity for Withem and his bandmates to explore some interesting ideas that wouldn’t fit on a “proper” Fine China album? Or do these three songs represent a new phase for the band, sort of like how Talk Talk evolved from new wave hitmakers to the folks who crafted Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock? Time will tell, I suppose, but in any case, Trees At Night is certainly intriguing and quite lovely in places.

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