Northwest tales: Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole

One band isn’t enough for Krist Novoselic these days. After launching Giants in the Trees a few years ago, he’s now emerged with another musical venture, Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole, joined by Ray Prestegard, one of his Giants bandmates, and writer/lecturer Robert Michael Pyle. Novoselic is credited with guitar, bass, piano, and accordion, with Prestegard on box guitar, dobro, mandolin, and violin, and Pyle on spoken word — and, unexpectedly, harmonica.

Trivia: Pyle is the founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, so, not surprisingly, environmental themes are prominent throughout the album (note also the dedication, “to all of our neighbors in the Deep River and Grays River watersheds, human and otherwise”). One of the more serious pieces, “Man Turns Into Cloud,” contemplates the scourge of climate change. “Oh, it’s been fun, this carnival of carbon/This festival of gluttony and greed,” Pyle explicates, dropping in some wry humor along the way with his observation, “natural selection is still going on/and we might not be the fittest after all.” 

“Bretz’s Flood” serves up a little geological history about our planet. “Ceremony” is a thoughtful consideration about the life of a bear. And “Two Rivers” is an illustration of the very region where the group has its roots, the rivers in question being Deep River and Grays River in southwest Washington, both of which feed into the mighty Columbia. Pyle describes the rivers winding their way “Past ghost towns of the Finns and the Swedes/past log dumps and stumps of forests past,” just the start of a verdant landscape filled with graveyards, docks, mud banks, otters, mink, salmon, and “meadows of cattle and elk.” You can practically feel the cool, crisp air, and smell of the dense forest green.

The music, being heavy on stringed instruments, is rich and resonant, folky and atmospheric. Pyle’s voice is friendly and welcoming, which gives even the more sobering recitations a light touch. As in the opening number, “Big Wave,” which touts the cleansing power of the titular water mass, imagining that “All insults will be washed away.” Pyle’s delivery is so spirited, you don’t initially notice that the piece also features an uneasy undercurrent that hints at apocalypse. 

But for the most part, the pieces focus on the wonders of nature, as in “The Swallows Came Back.” There are also two interesting travelogues, “Voyage of the Beagle” and “Voyage of the Western Flyer.” Both journeys force the travelers to reconsider their place in the universe. “Why do humans find it so hard to admit that we are just another species?” Pyle states in “Western Flyer,” making the case that grasping this realization is key to our survival, as well as the planet’s. The same piece also has a nice nod to Nirvana’s “All Apologies,” coming in the realization that “all things are one thing and one thing is all things. Or, as we might say, that all in all is all we are,” while Novoselic plays a melancholy accordion line. 

This is an album that celebrates the rich natural beauty of planet earth in general, and the Pacific Northwest in particular. Born and bred in one of Washington state’s quiet little backwaters, teeming with life and mystery.

(Check out Butterfly Launches from Spar Pole below via Spotify and click HERE to purchase)


Gillian G. Gaar

Gillian G. Gaar covers the arts, entertainment, and travel. She was a senior editor at the legendary Northwest music publication The Rocket, and has also written locally for The Seattle Times, The Stranger, and Seattle Weekly, as well as national/international outlets such as Rolling Stone, Mojo, Q, and Goldmine, among others. She has written numerous books, including She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll, Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana, Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback, and World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story. Follow @GillianGaar on Twitter.

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