The Western Den
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The Western Den

Boston, Massachusetts, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013

Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Established on Jan, 2013
Duo Folk Ambient




"The Western Den - Battle Hymns"

The Western Den is one of my favourite discoveries of 2013. They may not have a long established discography, but from the moment I was finished listening to their EP, Battle Hymns, I was sold.

This duo has forged some incredible songs of melody and melancholy that reach out and grab hold of you as you listen. Featuring beautiful vocal harmonies from Chris West and Deni Hlavinka as well as Alec Alabado and great cello and violin parts to round out their piano and guitar based sound, there’s really not much to find at fault here. If you enjoy folk and ambient music, with a touch indie influence, then you’ll love this.

Battle Hymns is not a very cheerful album, but it brings to mind a similar release from last year, Through the Deep, Dark Valley by The Oh Hellos. Both albums deal with sorrow and despair at times, yet each is wondrously beautiful.

The lyrics are vague stories – told in bits and pieces so that we never have a full picture, but we never need to know more than we’re given. I especially enjoy the imagery of “Desert Ground,” which to the best of my knowledge chronicles the fatal crash of a hot air balloon in Egypt. The final verse is chilling: “And lay there, a mother, her daughter and son, /The only three to last the fall, and tell of what’d been done. /How the Desert rules with an iron fist and nay believes in truth or grace, /And once bound by the Desert sound, ne’er we will escape.” It’s my favourite song for how they craft a simple story out of the event, and how the chorus reels you in and never lets you go;” “Come on down to the desert ground” /The Lord of sand, he calls out. /Come on down to the desert ground. /Down to the desert ground, I come down.” Notice how the repetition within the chorus cements the inevitability, the pull of the desert itself.

Another highlight is “The Minister.” A ballad that conveys heartbreaking sadness. It follows the conceit of “What can make the minister fall?” Featuring lines like “You are far too old, /To tread the waters of a wretched soul,” it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for this minister. The last minute or so builds, strings and guitar weaving an intense atmosphere, finishing with the same line again, “What can make the minister fall?” But this time we are left in the dark as to whether or not it truly wishes to know the answer. The song can work either as a questing of a particular character; his capabilities and potential downfall, or it could be a musing of the trials and tribulations of ministers in general, and the need for them to find peace and hang on, rather than become one of many fallen by the wayside, “For there’s a long and painful road, /Crowded with the bodies we’ve all known.”

It closes out with “First Light,” which is literally a song about the darkness before the dawn. It feels weighty and important, a tale of woe and darkness which befell some land: ” We mourn our morning’s loss and alter now our gaze, /For we cannot see the garden’s glow, /Nor the night between our days, /Hear our desirous hearts calling out in pain, /To rid ourselves of darkened homes and seek the morn again.” But the hope springs forth eternal, as it ends a cappella on this note: “The morn came down and fought to promise brighter days, /Though the dark, it stayed a little while, /The morn, it soon became.” The same subject matter, in the hands of a lesser band, could have come across as forced or cliché, but the flow of the imagery and themes of hope in the darkness resonates strongly within the song.

Overall: The songs on Battle Hymns are the type of music that makes one’s soul ache with both sorrow and joy. Let it wash over you and soak in the blend of calming ambient soundscapes and compelling folk harmonies and narratives. The Western Den is one to watch out for. - Josh Hamm

"The Western Den Live in Vienna, VA"

On the 18th May 2013, on the closing leg of a 4 state tour supporting Melissa Ferrick’s full album release of ‘The Truth Is”, The Western Den played 2 shows to a packed house at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA.

Meeting these guys again is fabulous. I last saw Deni and Chris (our first meeting) the day after Thanksgiving 2012, when they played an intimate little gig at a coffee house in Winchester, VA. The setting has changed, but the personalities have not. I meet them at the merch table before the show, and Chris and Deni are exactly the same humble, grateful, enthusiastic, loving souls, they have always been, and always will be.

They take to the stage, a well-intended mysterious musical start, until the sustain pedal craps out (it’s not plugged in). Actually it’s an intimate introductory moment, memorable in a good way, an ice breaker which allows Deni to “do her thing” and draw the crowd in. Within a minute, they launch into their opener:

“I am not the one,
who can bring you to the altar,
I am not the one who can free you
from your faltering heart”

It’s perfect from the outset, typical Chris and Deni, at its heart a beautiful, mesmerizing vocal from both; clearly they have worked and worked to get to the perfect harmonies they are achieving, amidst guitar harmonics and beautiful piano licks galore.

‘For the Sake of Seeking’ comes next, and introduces the EP. Bringing the brilliant cellist Ro Rowan (pictured) into the performance, once again the vocal is haunting and echoey, using not only lyric but a wealth of well planned “ooh” and “aah” to bring a symphonic feel to the song. Deni’s songs have always been vocally very clever (listen to my favorite of her early works, ‘The Dove and the Boulder’), so meaningful and packed with metaphor and classical reference, and it’s clear that she’s brought all of that and more to her partnership with Chris; Chris, who adds a huge depth that puts the “West” in “The Western Den”, with a voice that’s smoother that silk, and a feel for the guitar – and everything it can do – that I’ve rarely seen in a lifetime.

‘The Minister’ is their third number, and by now the crowd are so with them; louder applause, they realize they are witnessing something special, and Melissa must be pleased. Warming a venue-full of people is exactly what a rock-solid support band needs to do. It’s a remarkable ballad; Chris leads more in this number, showcasing a vocal that I’ve not heard before from him, powerful and comfortable. The cello adds a swell like the ocean tides to the number, as it builds into a wonderful guitar and piano crescendo;

“What can make the minister fall?”

Their next number, ‘Desert Ground’, was written, as Chris announced, about a little boy who witnessed a hot air balloon crash over Egypt; a very recent and painful tragedy which brought Cairo into the press this spring.

“Come on down to the desert ground”

It’s a back and forth between Chris and Deni, using the best of both of their voices; a sad theme, and yet a compelling work which pulls you in. The outstanding feature of this song is the particularly emphasized use of Deni’s two vocal mikes, one with a huge echo for that soaring backing, and one clipped, crisp, and capturing every detail for the lead on the verses. Deni at her absolute best vocal I have heard, Chris proving that he has an amazing songwriting skill which will produce and produce.

The next song is a fascinating story; Melissa Ferrick, the headliner and songwriting teacher at Berklee accompanying on percussion, has a particular connection, because this is the first song Deni turned in for a grade in Melissa’s class at Berklee. As with so many of Deni’s early work, it includes several references to the sea, the Virginia shoreline, shifting tides, and waves. It’s lovely, Melissa is clearly incredibly into it, mouthing the words all through as she adds some perfect percussive ripples.

By the way, Melissa is another story and an epic review to come; quite brilliant as an established musician, guitar player, singer, and songwriter, I had not heard her before this gig (shame on me). Her headline act was jaw-dropping, masterful, and the fact that she endorses ‘The Western Den’ gives them all the more kudos in the years to come.

Their last is a cover, ‘Round Here’ by Counting Crows. It’s a perfect ending for these two. Flawless vocal brings me, quite honestly, to tears; Chris and his smooth style, and Deni with that amazing classical and contemporary sound. They sing it like they mean it, EVERY time.

“Step out the front door like a ghost
Into the fog where no one notices
The contrast of white on white.
And in between the moon and you
The angels get a better view
Of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.
I walk in the air between the rain
Through myself and back again”

To see The Western Den live is, without exaggeration, perfection. The hard work which they put in is evident, but without the incredible natural talent which they both bring to the table, this incarnation would never be possible. Always on pitch, attention to instrumental detail obvious, and vocal harmonies to absolutely die for. I’ve enjoyed Deni’s music for two years, since her senior high school recital in fact, and always marveled at her musicianship. Chris I’ve met more recently, and come to embrace as a superb musician, and seriously committed young man. Delightful through and through. Watch out for these two, they will be impressing and amazing for years to come. - David Mark Smith

"New Artists, Holiday Songs 2013"

Newfound favorites The Western Den are a young ambient folk duo prone to narrative lyricism, hauntingly beautiful arrangements, and gentle, etherial harmonies; the pulsing carols on their tiny 3-track Midwinter EP are an apt introduction to their work, with organic instrumental undertones from brass and strings that mix with their sweet voices, piano, and guitar to frame a myriad moments that soothe, silence, and soar. But we are equally floored by their ongoing celebration of nature and community, as evidenced by the year-round celebration of their peers in the Boston folk scene, and the plethora of photos taken among the leaves of every season, that fill their Facebook page. In the case of the Midwinter EP, these trends manifest in context as much as they do in craft: a pay-as-you-wish download, hand-sewn fabric sleeves for hardcopy, and the donation of all EP proceeds to UNICEF to aid children in the Philippines affected by the recent typhoon, surround their aural honesty with cherishing light, making the collection a perfect introduction to their breadth and beauty. - Joshua Farber

Discography - Battle Hymns EP by The Western Den May 2013 - Midwinter EP by The Western Den December 2013



Formed in February 2013, and driven by a shared passion to create music with purpose, The Western Den is the collaborative work of Deni Hlavinka and Chris West, who together, blend compelling folk harmonies with ambient textures to produce a sound all their own. The duo released their debut EP, Battle Hymns, in May 2013 and premiered themselves to the public, opening for Melissa Ferrick on the northeastern leg of her national tour, in the summer of the same year. The Western Den is currently based in Boston, performing and working on their full-length album.

Band Members