Deer Scout – Woodpecker
Carpark – 8 April 2022
Dena Miller has one of those voices so incredibly high and pure that, at times, it’s almost shocking the things she sings about as Deer Scout on her debut album, Woodpecker. She experiences uncertainty and confusion, wielding her electric guitar on “Cup”, making it clear that she hasn’t got all the answers, but she has questions. “I can’t shake a feeling I don’t know the name of.” The song, about a relational psychology test, illustrates that her material isn’t necessarily what one might expect.
The straightforward isn’t the path she takes, “Cowboy,” a number with double-tracked vocals over gentle guitar riffs and Miller’s double-tracked voice, tells of Joe Buck, the naïve sex worker played by Jon Voight in the movie. Telling its tale of a small guppy trying to survive in a large ocean with compassion, she still has to reveal hard truths, “In the end, a player is bound to get played.” As she mentions, “It’s a song about feeling like you’re one step behind everybody else, like a small fish in a big pond and being a little bit naive.”
Recorded over a long period of time (demos started in 2017 – the actual sessions took place during 2019 and 2020), the album was written over six years. The earliest song, “Synesthesia”, was written during her freshman year of college in Philadelphia following a basement show. Guitar and fiddle combine while Miller sings, “Night in the city/ Big house on the corner/ Her voice has the timbre of summers ago.”
Part of what makes this set of songs so exceptional is Miller’s ability to discern things that create new ways of hearing old material. “Peace of the Damage” is actually a song written by her father that the two recorded in 2016 or 2017. Yet while the recording was being concluded, she decided to add a second vocal line. Her young voice and her older voice blended in a way that made the song a duet of sorts between young and old versions of herself.
Fascinatingly, Miller admits, “I used to sing myself to sleep as a baby and I think music still plays the same role in my life—it’s a way of self-soothing or seeking comfort.” The comfort is still there, even in cases when it may seem less than obvious. Over a bed of strings and pedal steel guitar, “Afterthought” has her intoning with joy, “Heaven isn’t watching us.”
In spite of questions without answers and realizations that don’t always bring comfort, Dear Scout offers hope on Woodpecker, which has been in short supply lately.
Woodpecker is out now. Stream/Order: