The softly lit, unsaturated photos that grace the packaging of Calico Haunts' second record, After All, transform familiar, idyllic images with slightly psychedelic hues: A couple runs through a field toward a lake, their figures washed into pale tones. The same pair climbs logs in the same light. Even the cover is but a tall tree, its knotty figure refracted and reflected against its own shadow, both swirled through a bright sepia glow.
These figures suggest much about the 12 tracks inside, recorded at home in Chapel Hill by singer/ songwriter Alexander Holt Iglehart and multi-instrumentalist Jenni Snyder before Calico Haunts later evolved into a five-piece band. Instrumental opener "Early Easter Afternoon," for instance, begins with gentle tambourine jangles, easy acoustic strums and slow organ swells behind glistening electric guitar. Slowly, it drifts and blurs away into fuzz. Iglehart's detached vocals finally arrive through a distant echo during "Couvert Le Meurtre." A shimmering guitar washes over a simple, casual shuffle. A pair of harmonica solos enter and exit almost as asides. Snyder's nonchalant harmonies drift in and out. Nothing's ever too direct.
Druggy and drenched in reverb, the guitars of "Killingsworth" score Iglehart's haunted memories of an altercation he'd like to forget, while the title track burns slowly before igniting into a heavily distorted guitar that fights against a humid organ and a bluesy harp. Instrumental "White Widow" later reprises those instruments into a swampy stomp. Both tunes are reminiscent of a hazy take on Neil Young's mid-'70s electric output, but the rest of the disc is considerably more pacific. "North of Pine Hollow" and "House by the Highway" are slow, deliberate strolls, Eric Haugen adding the mournful cries of his pedal steel.
A gorgeously blurred folk record, After All is the aural equivalent of a long, foggy drive along a desolate mountain highway on a late summer night, the sun setting orange just beyond the peaks.
Calico Haunts release After All with a free show at Local 506 Friday, Aug. 14. Wild Wild Geese and John Howie Jr. open at 10 p.m.