Don't judge a CD by its cover, at least not "A Long Midwinter," a new album by Seattle band The Horde & The Harem.
The cover, which depicts a fur coat wrapped around a bunch of flowers lying in the snow, and the CD's bleak title are based on a tragic short story, "Master and Man," by Leo Tolstoy. And while these elements suggest a grim soundtrack, the music is surprisingly cheery.
The Horde & The Harem plays chamber folk — they call it "emotional indie rock" — much like The Decemberists but with more pop, more harmonies, "a two-step feel" and "grooves you can move your body to," says principal songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Barber.
Who: The Horde & The Harem
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 2
Where: Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St., Ashland
Cover: $3 to $5
On its way to Austin, Texas, for The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, the band will make its Ashland debut at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St. Cover charges are $3 to $5. Call 541-482-4677.
In Seattle, the band plays with a trumpeter and trombonist, but on the road, it's just Barber, drummer Jack Chandelier, bassist Geoff Kirkby Tatro, guitarist Noble Monyei and keyboardist Hanna Stevens.
Barber calls The Horde & The Harem his most successful band to date. He moved to Washington from San Francisco with a different band, which later dissolved. Four years ago, he formed The Horde & The Harem. (The name comes from a book about Neanderthals. Barber acknowledges that it's a hard-edged name for a band with a fairly whimsical repertoire.)
The band played the Northwest Folklife Festival, then Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party and, later, landed a spot on the Bumbershoot roster. The Horde has since settled into its current lineup and established itself as a "must-see" in the Northwest music scene.
When The Horde rolls into town, look for the trailer with a half dozen bikes strapped to it.
"Most of us are bike commuters, and all of us bike all over the place," Barber says. "When we get to a big city with a van and trailer, it's nice to have the mobility of the bike."
If the band was acoustic, it would leave the van at home and tour by bike.