The Murder of Crows is an atmospheric alternative band from Duluth, MN. The duo consists of guitarist / vocalist Alan Sparhawk and violinist/vocalist Gaelynn Lea. The two musicians met in 2011 when Alan saw Gaelynn playing her fiddle at a farmers market in their hometown of Duluth. They later did a live soundtrack to a Lon Chaney film screening; it turned out they enjoyed playing together, so The Murder was born.
Alan Sparhawk is best known for his work as the lead singer / songwriter in the band Low, a minimalist indie rock trio which was formed in 1993 and has released 11 studio albums to date. Gaelynn Lea has been performing throughout Minnesota solo and in various musical groups for just over a decade, but her musical career took a national twist on March 3, 2016, when she was named the winner of NPR Music’s second-ever Tiny Desk Contest. Just one week later Gaelynn performed a moving Tiny Desk Concert, at which the show’s host Bob Boilen said, “there was hardly a dry eye.” Alan flew out to join her for the last two songs of her set.
Although at first it may seem like an unlikely pairing – with Alan’s long history in the indie rock world and Gaelynn’s classical/folk background – their divergent musical styles create a complementary sound which is really quite lovely.
At its core, The Murder of Crows is built around slow, winding, hypnotic instrumentals that hopefully create a kind of mental journey. Sparhawk utilizes looping pedals and other musical gadgets to produce layered waves of sound. Their music has been described as meditative, haunting, intense, and beautifully sorrowful. The band prefers to think of it as ideal bird-watching music.
On June 1st, 2012, The Murder of Crows released its first-ever recording, a 7-track EP Imperfecta. It consists of two of Gaelynn Lea’s original songs and five instrumentals. They recorded it by the big picture window in Lea’s living room (where they always rehearse), inspired by the menagerie of neighborhood birds outside. Their original song “When We Were Young” was featured on the Sundance Channel’s acclaimed drama Rectify in June 2014.
Live sets by The Murder of Crows have evolved into a unique blend of instrumentals and vocal songs. They have added in a number of Gaelynn Lea’s originals, some choice covers (from bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Peter Tosh, Nirvana, and of course, Low), and a wider, more dynamic range of instrumental pieces. Their banter between songs is of note: reticent, deadpan stoicism meets chatty, bubbly enthusiasm. It’s an odd combination that provides a breath between their sobering and often emotional pieces. Maybe it’s the contrast that’s refreshing. Or perhaps it’s because the duo’s endearing friendship shines through their idiosyncratic dialogue. Nevertheless, somehow it works.