The Tree Ring
Ten Rivers (self-released)

It was about 45 seconds into "Cadillac Mountain," the lush, orchestral instrumental that opens The Tree Ring's third album, that I realized that I was going to hate this record. 

Hear me out. I don't hate it for the music it contains; I hate it because it marks the formal end to what's been one of San Diego's most understated, underrated and sonically rich bands. The core quintet—Joel P West, Kelly Bennett, Darla Hawn, Jon Titterington and Daniel Rhine—has said that Ten Rivers is the last record, and the local scene is decidedly less cool because of that.

Still, what an exquisitely crafted final statement this is. Immediately accessible but still rewarding over repeated listens, it channels the absolute best musical inclinations of artists like Sufjan Stevens ("Feet in the Water"), Andrew Bird ("The Color Up in the Hills") and even singers like Cat Stevens ("Beside a River") and Rufus Wainwright ("Tunnel View"). It becomes clear very quickly that The Tree Ring, led by singer and multi-instrumentalist West, have refined their chamber-folk sound so finely that they've created a masterpiece and hit their creative peak just as they're ready to take their final bow. 

Lyrically, the LP is almost a concept album about nature, filled with enough references to the great outdoors to have made Thoreau jealous—valleys, rivers, clouds, hills, deserts, snow and everything in between, with West bellowing in the sorrowful ballad "Tunnel View," "The trees have never made a promise / The trees have never let me down." I get the sense that West is often speaking allegorically in these songs, and I can't help but get a little excited—and hate this album a little less—when he so stridently proclaims in the album's closing track, "O, Sequoia," "We won't break that easily / We're strong as our rings." 

Is he talking about The Tree Ring themselves? I certainly hope so. 

The Tree Ring will play their last show with My Name is You at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, at The Irenic.

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