Graph Rabbit is the Brooklyn-based duo of artist/composer Austin Donohue (guitar, vocals) and experimental pianist Shy Kedmi (analogue synths). Graph Rabbit’s debut album Snowblind – released October 9th – is produced by Allen Farmelo (The Cinematic Orchestra, Talk Normal, Mike Jorgensen of Wilco) and mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Rós).
Graph Rabbit originally began as the solo project of Brooklyn-based artist/composer Austin Donohue in 2010. But it wasn’t until Donohue, an accomplished filmmaker, musician and composer in his own right, began collaborating with producer Allen Farmelo in the winter of 2010 that Graph Rabbit began to find it’s true form.
“When we began working together I had no idea what I was in for,” explains Donohue of working with Farmelo. “For almost a year Allen made me sing the same three songs every day into my iPhone and email him those MP3s. Allen would write back long emails about every nuance until I finally delivered a track that made him cry.”
Those three songs never made it on the record. Instead, the pair scrapped them and began to conceptualize the record on paper. Farmelo brought out a big piece of paper and asked Donohue to fill it with images of things that moved him. When he was done, Farmelo circled only three: birds, trees and snow.
The result is Graph Rabbit’s debut album Snowblind – a deftly nuanced concept album, sweepingly cinematic at times and hauntingly minimalist at others. The album follows an unnamed character as he wanders through a surreal snow-scape, in and out of sleep, following birds through fields, arguing with a river and eventually just surrendering to the silence of snowfall. “It’s like, what if Dorothy decided to kick off the ruby slippers and stay in the poppy field while it snowed?” says Donohue.
The production on Snowblind is minimal – one finger picked guitar, one curiously small analog synth (knows as a Pocket Piano) and Donohue’s singularly beautiful voice send it all soaring, with the eerie rattle of sleigh bells, twinkling glockenspiel, and an Estonian handbell ensemble lacing the songs with unexpected textures.
The first sound we hear is a warbling, minor key synth arpeggio that opens the track, “My Name,” with Donohue’s finger-picked guitar entering at odd cross-time; this is physical disorientation rendered musically. By track three, “Butterscotch,” Pocket Pianos replace guitars, pulsing manically as sleigh bells slash through the soundscape. On “Only Fields (the album’s first single) we hear Donohue’s evocative falsetto crooning a direct answer to Dylan’s famous question – “”if you ask me how it feels / there’s no answer / only fields” – as our character reconciles himself with this snowy otherworld. The album closes with an instrumental called “Whiteout” in which a Drake-esque guitar pattern, an insistent synth arpeggio and slowly churning sleigh bells are assailed by swoops of white noise. “It’s as if the music is trying to erase itself,” explains Donohue, “like a total whiteout.” After completing the album, Donohue invited collaborator Shy Kedmi to join as an official member of the band. The duo are now performing the record in its entirety throughout the East Coast. “Performing the album front-to-back on all analog / acoustic equipment with no computers is a risk but we wanted to take it” explains Kedmi. “It’s the only way we can really bring the world we’ve created, the world of Snowblind, to our audience,” Donohue adds in closing.