With Subtle Sweetness & Rangy Grip on Creativity, Trey Graves’ ‘Fern’ EP is Love
Evan Dale // March 2, 2021
From Memphis with a mosaic of stylistic range, Trey Graves is reaching far to his Fern with an EP invoking the boundlessness of his sound when so spurred by love. Fern – named for his lady who features on the EP’s closing track – is the first project from Trey Graves since 2018’s also rangy bout, drft. And akin to that one, this one, too, breathes of stylistic inadherence and bold creative effervescence.
Bursting through the seams of the project that doubles – or perhaps only singles – as a Valentine’s Day gift for his long-distance girlfriend, is an indefinable stylistic range. It’s a nuanced musical breadth that was instilled in Graves as a child, and in his broad-stroking creative growth since. First playing instruments – drums and bass – in the church, the Memphis transcendentalist quickly furthered his musical mosaic by joining his father’s band and eventually winding up at school to study music. Mixed with his Southern roots, the patchwork outcome is impressionistic, yet focused, finding himself on the same plane of other DIY, all-in-house, creative powerhouses making – and ultimately changing – music by their independent hand. Search Moise, Flwr Chyld, and the larger underground Soul and Hip-Hop cloth of Nashville and you’ll find a broad swatch of artistry reinventing the rangy nuances of unparalleled studio professionalism born from modern independence.
Trey Graves is, to this day, a talented instrumentalist, composing the elemental makeup of his sound from the ground up, and producing its finished product. But, equally as strong is his knack for vocalism and songwriting. A capable, and ultimately timeless writer whose songs – though also rangy in thematic discourse – breathe of a simple relatability that speaks to the hearts his small, yet ever expanding audience, his is a folky sort of understanding on how to really connect with his listeners. Oh, and he can rap, too. All in all, he’s a keymark representation of post-genre independence, and Fern is a shining exhibition of what happens when multi-pronged talent is hinged to artistic freedom and the vibrant emotionality – and oft-simple sweetness – of love.
With a thing called love, Fern opens to the layer cake of self-instrumentalization to be expected. A silky guitar riff and adjoining harmony, a groovy bassline, and a simple drumkit set a stage for Trey Graves’ notably subtle, cooling, and calm vocal lines. Effortlessly weaving in and out of a soulful, emotionally evocative chorus, a series of more rap cadenced runs, a spoken poetic breakdown in the track’s latter half, and a sample from Fern, herself, Graves seamlessly transcends the very idea of genre from the very onset of the project. And he continues to do so for the following ten minutes in a way that embodies the minimalist, simple, yet oh, so very understated nature of his lowercase, punctuated track titles.
Trey Graves is mellow and makes mellow music for mellow moments. The sunshiny riff of need you too alone provokes thoughts of golden hour walks down treelined parks with a loved one. And once the Memphis transcendentalist starts down another effortlessly blurred mosaic of vocal bouts, his second timeless love song in as many attempts on the EP is born. A quick-flowing draw of verse slips unbothered into another cashmere, addicting chorus that should soundtrack anything and everything positive in life – especially moments of particularly lovely love.
A more funk-nuanced bit of bass-heavy instrumentals bleed into the patchwork curiosity of special. A continuous push and pull between the bass, the guitar, and the understated rap riffs and repetitive chorus make it the most experimental and vibrantly different inclusion on Fern, and it works. With a dynamic understanding of the many musical components at work, special feels pulled directly from the bubbly, oft-confusing realm of true love, from where the EP at large is rooted. It’s also poetic as hell.
Finally, no Valentine’s Day EP would be complete without a feature from the loved one, herself. A plucky, folky sort of timeless duet, tonight, you belong to me is an acoustically lullabying closure to the project. With Fern’s adjoining harmony, the two find an intimate moment of far-too-sweetness to share with an audience that at this point in the project, has fallen in love with the love story between Trey Graves and his titular girlfriend. When done right, that’s ultimately the power of harnessing that which inspires most music and emotion in this world and having the wherewithal to craft it into something unendingly artistic.
Fern moves well beyond Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s a testament to Trey Graves, to Fern, herself, or to the range of their relationship as it pertains to creativity. But, whatever the mosaic of it is that birthed the EP, Fern is a lovely, indefinable 12 minutes to be listened to any time of the year.