Echoing a great debut is always a tough task. Even more difficult is writing a worthy follow-up over emails and a spotty Wi-Fi connection when band members are in two different continents and are separated by eight time zones. Such is the unique plight of Eric & Magill’s Ryan Weber and Eric Osterman – both of whom were in the ranks of seminal late-’90s Milwaukee band Camden – who currently live in Kenya and Brooklyn, respectively (after stops elsewhere in between).
In 2010, the then-Armenia and Michigan-stationed musicians collaborated (with some help from members of Dirty Projectors, Owen, Decibully, Shearwater and Maritime) to release the great debut full-length, All Those I Know, which earned praise in both Milwaukee and beyond. However, the New York/Kenya by-way-of Michigan/Armenia by-way-of Milwaukee dream pop pet project manages to meet (if not exceed) any expectations of a follow-up with six masterful songs in its new EP, fittingly called Two Travelers.
True to their Milwaukee roots, Weber and Osterman enlisted a wavering harmony of local songbird Heidi Spencer in decided single and EP opener “Tangled Up In Nets,” which, with its banjo, harmonica and drum accompaniment, is a percussive and bluegrass-tinged take on Eric & Magill’s hushed, effect-laden standard sound. Unlike All Those I Know’s predominately drum-free offerings, four of six songs on Two Travelers utilize backing percussion that ranges from the steady kick drum serving as scaffolding for the gorgeous choral arrangement of “Take On Too Much,” to the snare-slaps (and hand claps) of triumph hymn “Don’t Worry.”
While the reverb-laden vocals and painstaking use of effects that have help define Eric & Magill to this point remain in selections like “Feel Your Pain” and “Carried Away,” Two Travelers hints at a fuller version of the band that didn’t previously need a rhythm section for 70 percent of its catalog. Still, the 96 seconds of piano-pounding and bare bones vocals on closer “Super Oso (Same Starry Sky)” remind the listener that Eric & Magill’s best sonic attribute is the beauty of its songs. The fact that such beauty was forged in such an unorthodox manner makes Two Travelers sound even sweeter.
Beginning Feb. 19, Two Travelers can be downloaded for free (or purchased for a pay-what-you-want price) at Eric & Magill’s Bandcamp page. The duo plans to release a full-length called Night Singers in May.