Low notes ring from an electric guitar, and the peaceful but sad "Friend Song" begins; Shawn Luby sings out comfort and support, and the sparse sound grows. Drums crash against the calm, accenting the space and the doubt in the lyrics. It finally settles into a steady beat, just as violin rises like the sun behind Luby's consolation: "Just lay your head down/ rest for a while/ and I'll pick you up." A beautiful, spare guitar solo follows, and the tune fades into silence after just four minutes.
If that were the end to "Friend Song," the tune would still fit comfortably into Counting Stars, the debut LP from Luby's Durham outfit, Humble Tripe. The quintet's disc, after all, is a fog in the forest—picked guitar floats over earthy percussion while strings and brass call out from the unseen distance. Songs fade in and out through mostly acoustic numbers, the occasional detail piercing the haze of half-finished thoughts. But here, Luby begins strumming his guitar again. Drums, violin and trumpet move victoriously, and Luby clears the air, finding the complement to "I'll pick you up." "I need you," he shouts again and again. It's a glorious, fierce, climactic moment in an album characterized more by a tentative atmosphere of ebb and flow. After seven minutes, and triumph, the tune ends.
Counting Stars is about more than just friendship, though. It dwells on themes of love, loss and moving on. In fact, the album plays much like a story. Early songs "Traveled" and "Washington" focus on falling and being in love. Then comes heartbreak. When thinking of an ex-love in "Alice," Luby sings, "She always warned me that her love couldn't hold me/ that I need to find strength on my own." But Luby never seems to find this strength. He even anthropomorphizes states of the union, entering into a romance with "Iowa." His delicate vocals reflect this dependence. On "Last Night," the album's closer, Luby confesses his helplessness, "I think that I still love you, and I don't think I could stop even if I tried." It's a gorgeous defeat.
Humble Tripe plays Nightlight Saturday, Jan. 9, for $5. Malcolm Rollick opens at 10 p.m., and Midtown Dickens headlines the evening.