It’s amazing to think about how far Katy Goodman has come in the last few years. Her work in Vivian Girls may have brought her to our attention, but her solo efforts as La Sera have allowed us to see a different side of her talents. Not everything she’s done in either project has been perfect, but it’s all been dynamic and interesting. “Losing to the Dark” is the first single off the third La Sera album Hour of the Dawn (out May 13th), and it does a fantastic job of blending some of the best elements from all of her previous work. The track sounds polished but with some nice touches of grit, which adds character. The distortion on the guitar helps a bit as well, and is insistent enough to make you want to turn the volume up just high enough that it might damage your hearing. That’s a good thing. Toss in the quick tempo and straightforward melody, and you get something fun, catchy and kinda perfect for driving. Before you know it, three minutes have passed, the chorus is stuck in your head, and you’re ready to hit the play button again. The world could use more songs like this.
Tag: vivian girls
Four days, 32 artists, and one physically/mentally tired guy. That about sums up my SXSW 2012 experience. While I was stumbling around Austin in a haze the last hour of the last day, my first trip to SXSW was a wonderful experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. After hearing so many great things about the city and the conference/festival, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and simply had to go just once, just to see what it was like. The end result was largely what I expected it to be, but with a few surprises thrown in as well. My hope here is to chronicle the things I think worked about SXSW, and a few that didn’t. Also, if you click past the jump, you can see all the photos I took while in Austin. If you’d like to read about individual performances that I saw last week, have a look at the following daily reports:
Perhaps the thing that makes SXSW truly great is the sheer size of it all. There are literally thousands of bands performing over a handful of days, almost all of them within the span of about 2 square miles. Getting around from show to show isn’t bad, whether you’re on foot or feel the need to take a pedicab. Of course 6th Street can get a little packed during peak hours and create some slow downs, but it’s never anything too unmanageable, even if you need to get somewhere fast. The wide array of shows and showcases happening at any given time can also create a bit of a headache, as it’s not exactly easy to pick and choose if there are 6 artists you want to see all performing at once. Learning the city and the locations of all the venues both legitimate and illegitimate goes a long way towards helping you make such tough choices based purely on conveniece and distance from where you’re currently at. Do you go see Cloud Nothings playing down the block, or do you walk 6 blocks to see Grimes? As I see it, the decision is pretty much already made for you.
Yet there are also a few SXSW music moments that you can’t always plan for, simply because they weren’t planned. There weren’t many “secret” shows this year so much as there were secret guests like Kanye West jumping on stage at the 2 Chainz show or Eminem showing up to support 50 Cent or Bruce Springsteen bringing out everyone from Jimmy Cliff to members of Arcade Fire to Tom Morello and Alejandro Escovedo. Those extra thrills only make the experience more special. Also a major contributor: the people. Austin is already something of a cultural melting pot, but with music fans and artists coming into town from all over the world, the diversity factor multiplies by about 10. But here’s the thing aboug most music fans: they’re good, friendly people. You could strike up a great conversation with the person standing next to you in line and not blink an eye. Everybody was there because they love music, and the easiest conversation starter was always finding out who they’re most excited to see while in town. The only time I ever saw anybody get angry was when a couple of people cut in line trying to get into a show. The reaction was less anger and more, “That wasn’t cool, guys.” If we as a society behaved more like everyone in Austin at SXSW did, the world would be a more peaceful place. Unless of course you’re at an A$AP Rocky show and somebody’s throwing full beer cans at the stage. That near-riot situation was a showcase of the worst side of humanity.
But outside of good music, good people and good weather, good food is another thing Austin is known for. There were food trucks and street vendors on most corners, each specializing in a different type of cuisine. You could get breakfast tacos at one place, and some Korean version of spaghetti at another. There was plenty of BBQ to be found too. If you’re a fan of slow-roasted meats that are tender and delicious, you didn’t have to walk more than a block in downtown Austin to find some. For the cheapskates, there were also a bunch of showcases giving away free food. It’s worth noting that like grocery store samples, the “food” they give you for free is often small and may not be of the highest quality. It also gets snatched up almost immediately for those reasons as well. You’re costing yourself a potentially great meal if you’re not paying for it.
For all the great things that happen in Austin during SXSW, it’s not a perfect situation by any means. First and foremost among the issues is overcrowding. Things may get cramped when you’re walking down the street, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening inside many of the venues. Jam packed to the gills, trying to get anywhere close to the action was tough, let alone trying to make your way back to the exit. When things did get that bad, the waiting games began. Lines built up outside venues that were a city block or more long, everyone beholden to the “one in, one out” policy. Pitchfork’s evening showcase at Central Presbyterian Church was the height of madness, and I stood in line for 3 hours, missing Fiona Apple, just to get into the 500 capacity venue. Was it worth it? Eh, kinda. Every performance I saw there was a revelation, which is more than I can say about the other venues in town. I’m not entirely sure how all these sound engineers stay employed given how many times I saw an artist ask for a levels adjustment or something broke. I know these artists don’t get a soundcheck during SXSW and they want to put on the best show possible, but constantly stopping or even aborting some songs right in the middle because of a small issue takes away whatever mojo that might have developed in the meantime. The worst night of all was at Clive Bar, where Tycho played without any sub-bass, New Build’s monitors weren’t functioning properly, and Grimes was forced to start her set even after everything wasn’t tested to see if it was working properly (it wasn’t).
Sound issues are just one half of the paradoxes that SXSW presents. The other is overextension. While SXSW can be a great thing for artists (performing in front of music industry bigwigs brings all sorts of exposure along with it), agreeing to play 3 shows a day for 4 days in a row can put you near death’s door. Touring is tough enough when you’ve got one show every night for 3 weeks straight, but SXSW is a marathon compared to that long distance run. Artists function on little to no sleep and can easily blow out their voices from singing too much. On Thursday night I saw Grimes play a perfect show at Central Presbyterian Church. 24 hours later, she had performed at least twice more before arriving at Clive Bar with a voice that was barely there. She fought against it as hard as she could, and eventually had to call it quits in a set that was also plagued with sound problems. It was a valiant effort, but likely left most of the crowd disappointed. Then again, everyone was so kind, understanding and enthusiastic, it probably didn’t matter as much as I thought it did.
Finally, I want to mention the hierarchy that is SXSW. Your amount of access is almost entirely based upon your status within the music industry. If you’re not part of the industry and are simply looking to see some free music, there’s lots to choose from if you don’t mind a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of. If there was a line anywhere, it was almost guaranteed the general public would not be allowed in, as those with badges or wristbands automatically had first dibs. Among the badges and wristbands, only the badges were given priority access into any venue. Every badge would be allowed in before any wristbands would, no matter when they showed up. Of course if I had a badge I probably wouldn’t be complaining about it, it’s just that there were so many of them. There must have been at least a dozen shows I tried to get into but was denied because the room was already filled with badges. Granted, badges cost around $900 and you should be getting something for that money, but it would be more fair if they offerend some balance like for every 100 badges let in, 10 wristbands also get in. Alas, wristband holders got the shorter end of the stick, while the general public was more shafted than anything.
SXSW is something that every obsessive music fan should attend at least once in their lives. It can be a genuine blast if you let it, and only gets better the more access you have. Not but a few years ago, the several day conference/festival served as a proving and development ground for new music talent. Today, that’s not really the case anymore. You may discover your new favorite band while wandering around Austin, but for the most part our discoveries are contained to the hype cycle on the good ‘ol Internet. Then again, were it not for SXSW I never would have stumbled into the band Tearist and one of the most batshit crazy/weird live shows I’ve ever seen. I’m still not sure whether it was supremely stupid or incredibly clever, but if you like incomprehensible psych-pop and somebody showing an iron beam who’s boss with a lead pipe, Tearist could be for you. Outside of the occasional exposure to an artist you didn’t intend to see, you’re quite in control of your own destiny. Unless you’re the adventuresome type willing to walk into a venue without knowing or caring who’s performing, most identify and target acts based on personal tastes or recommendations of others. With so many choices, you can use the time to check a few acts off your personal bucket list. That’s what I did, and though I didn’t get to see every artist I wanted to, I feel like what I did see was extremely worthwhile anyways, with the aforementioned issues or not. I hope I get to go again, be it next year or in 10 years. And if you didn’t go, I hope you take the opportunity to get to Austin soon. It’s a great American city, and the Live Music Capital of the World for a reason.
Click past the jump for photos of many of the bands I saw at this year’s SXSW, in alphabetical order:
Friday was an interesting day for me at SXSW. I saw some good performances, some mediocre ones, a truly devastating one, and a legendary one. I also got denied admittance to a couple of important shows, including The Shins and Jack White. But let’s not dwell on those things I missed out on, and talk about the ones I actually saw. Once again, as a reminder, I’ll have photo sets of most of what I’m writing about next week, when I get home and can get the pictures off my camera.
My first live show of the day was a little later than Thursday, in part because there wasn’t much I wanted to see early in the afternoon. Also I had trouble making a decision. I chose to explore Austin a little more, and venture out to one of the more “off the grid” venues, away from the hustle and bustle that is 6th Street. There was a house party going on for the Comedy Central show Workaholics that I considered attending for a brief period, but there was a huge line to get in. Just down the block was Clive Bar, and they had a pretty decent afternoon showcase going on. I arrived there moments before Class Actress took the stage. Honestly, seeing Elizabeth Harper perform has been on my musical bucket list for awhile now, and I always seem to have something big happening the days she’s playing shows in Chicago. Now in Austin, this was my chance. Her set was surprisingly short, perhaps in part due to a late start after some sound issues, and she mostly stuck to material off her latest album Rapprocher. She was warm, funny, engaging and all-around a delight. I don’t think enough people realize what a talent she really is, and hopefully some important heads were turned watching her during SXSW. I was also quite fascinated by her choice of outfit for the 80 degree and sunny day – a loose-fitting, over the shoulder sweater, a sport coat, a pair of gold necklaces, and high heels. She truly does put the “class” in Class Actress.
Next on the bill were Friends, a band from Bushwick, NY that has been making serious waves in the last year. In addition to some healthy blog buzz, Friends caught the attention of Sir Elton John a few months back, and they attended his holiday party. Really it’s still the tip of the iceberg, as they don’t even have a debut full length out yet. Before the end of the year they will though. In the meantime, they’re going out on tour with Neon Indian and doing other fun stuff like SXSW performances. Friends make a very percussion-heavy tropical pop, if you want to call it that. They’ve been compared to Lykke Li and that’s only one facet of their multi-layered sound. Their set at Clive Bar was one to behold though, and I’m glad I stuck around for it. While the rest of the band pretty much plays it straight and light, singer Samantha Urbani is the live wire keeping the crowd in a fit of wild bliss. She jumps around, makes faces, and directly interacts with audience members in the middle of songs. During the song “Friend Crush”, she hopped off the stage and began hugging and touching the faces of people in the crowd. When the band launched into their cover of the Ghost Town DJs classic “My Boo”, she pulled a few audience members up to dance. It made for a fun little party in the late afternoon. I’d like to think the members of Friends became my friend after a set like that. You’d be wise to see them yourself, before they get huge.
Once Friends had finished, I was all set to skip over to see Fanfarlo, but on the way I stumbled onto a show I wasn’t aware existed until that very moment. Vivian Girls were playing a set in a parking lot. There were no listings for any Vivian Girls shows, only Katy Goodman’s La Sera solo project and drummer Fiona Campbell’s other band Coasting. But that’s one of the great things about SXSW: sometimes a last minute surprise show happens, and kudos to you if you can discover it. I only got to see them play a few songs, but any songs from Vivian Girls are kind of a treat. I don’t expect them to be around forever, given the strong side project work they’re all up to, but just having them around and playing a show together is all anyone can ask for. Here’s the thing though: they’re a very good, but not quite great live band. Their music translates exceptionally well from the record to the stage, but they don’t do a whole lot while they’re up there. In some ways it’s like they’re on autopilot. Those songs are such a delight too, which gives them more live show slack. So to sum up, it was nice seeing Vivian Girls live for the first time, even if it was a shortened set in a parking lot.
By the time I’d caught up with Fanfarlo, they were about halfway through their set. Playing at the same time as a surprise Vivian Girls show will do that to one’s arrival time. I was pleased to see a moderately large crowd watching them in a shaded courtyard. They stuck with mostly material off their new record Rooms Filled With Light as expected, though they ended with the classic “Harold T. Wilkins” that the crowd was quite pleased with. Also pleasing were a pair of strong saxophone solos courtesy of singer Simon Balthazar. Yet the band’s performance was a lot like Vivian Girls’ in that they didn’t so much breathe new life into decent material but instead performed it almost verbatim with the record. Once you see so many live shows, playing it straight simply doesn’t cut it anymore. In other words, Fanfarlo was good but a touch short of great.
After getting stuck in long lines for The Shins and the Third Man showcase only to not get in, I ventured back to Clive Bar for an evening showcase that was well up my alley. Tycho was first on the bill, but from the start there were problems. Apparently the speakers weren’t working, or at least not properly. A 30 minute delay later, and the 3-piece just decided to start even though there wouldn’t be any bass pumping through the speakers. The crowd was told to imagine there was some phat bass to the songs played and that hopefully they’d fix the problem during the set. Of course then other sound issues began to appear, like monitor trouble and the like, so it became a game of small adjustments throughout the set. Still, Tycho was good enough to impress me and make me wonder why I don’t listen to/own more of his music. Gonna have to get on that one. Sprawling instrumental electro post-rock that’s as gorgeous as it is fun.
MNDR was next on the bill, and unlike when I tried to see her Wednesday night, she actually showed up this time. Actually, after a brief Twitter exchange with her, she showed up on Wednesday night when I was there, but was bumped off the bill as they were running late. So consider that a correction. Anyways, she wasn’t bumped this time, and her show was fascinating to say the least. Yet again they were having sound issues, which would become a recurring theme throughout the night. For those that don’t know, MNDR makes pop music, but in a little more independent fashion than most other music stars these days. I had always assumed there were producers and writing teams responsible for her music, as is the case with your pop stars of today. But no, it’s only MNDR (Amanda Warner), completely producing, writing and singing these songs herself. That’s a very DIY attitude and I admire it significantly. That said, I’m not the biggest fan of her music. She’s lovely and hilarious, but her songs failed to get me going. She’s got a new record coming out this summer, so I wish her the best of luck with that.
Next up was New Build, a band from the UK that has ties to Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem. Ironic then that New Build sounds just like what would happen if you took those two bands and combined them. They’re a whole lot of fun, and have 3 percussionists, among other things. There were sound issues galore during their set, including a defective monitor, but the band did their best to make it through their set with minimal disruption. They only got to play a handful of songs, but the ones they did were great and got the crowd seriously moving. Their debut album Yesterday Was Lived and Lost is out now and worth checking out if you like a good organic dance sound. I predict much bigger things for them in the coming years.
SXSW can be hard on the artists sometimes, especially if they’re booked for multiple shows multiple days in a row. Such is the case with Grimes, who has been working harder than anyone the last few days. She’s also in the middle of her first really big tour, which naturally is putting her resolve to the test. All that came to a head Friday night with her Clive Bar set. The sound issues that hurt the bands before her continued, not aided whatsoever by the MC between sets, coming out to “introduce” Grimes but not being aware she hadn’t even soundchecked yet. Claire Boucher just kind of stood there with a puzzled look on her face wondering when she was going to test some microphone levels and such. The crowd was itching to hear her start, and kept yelling for her to forget the soundcheck and just go, but every performer wants to get those sorts of things right to ensure a quality show. Once things were finally in a satisfactory state, Boucher introduced herself and mentioned she had a sore throat from not sleeping, so her high notes might sound shitty. Ah, the perils of too many performances. Things started off okay, but quickly descended into a hell of more sound problems and a vocal blowout. Certain equipment stopped working, the speakers went out, and she was visibly clawing at her throat like it was on fire. Truly everything that could have gone wrong during that set, did go wrong. Yet she pressed onward as best she could, and the crowd was very forgiving. She got through “Oblivion” well enough, and a light bit of dancing while also multitasking between keyboards and her effects table made it all the more charming. It may have been the worst Grimes performance to date, but none of it was really her fault. The whole thing was a sharp contrast with the night before at Central Presbyterian Church, where I walked away in awe of what she’d accomplished. This time I just felt sorry for her. I’ve got a great feeling she’ll bounce back though, better than ever.
Headlining the night was YACHT, who I was excited to see because I’d never seen them before. I’ve admired their last couple albums but wouldn’t say I was in love with them, and was intrigued to hear how the colorful characters of Jona Bechtolt and Claire Evans would bring the songs to life. Turns out, a YACHT show is one of the biggest and best parties you can ever go to. Both Bechtolt and Evans are super entertaining people that dance around and interact with crowds and get everyone riled up in the best sort of way. When they too were plagued with a little bit of sound problems, they either ignored them or took Q&A with the crowd while they waited for the issues to be sorted out. Their songs, while ordinarily very beat-heavy and fun, only got heavier and more fun when performed live. Both Bechtolt and Evans came into the dance pit fun zone near the front of the stage at one point or another, and Evans even got in some serious crowd surfing. She also climbed up on speakers and threw microphone stands. It was by far the most entertaining show I’ve seen so far at SXSW and I could not recommend it more highly. That turned into the party of all parties, and a crowd that came to dance but was often left disappointed due to sound issues, finally got their chance to let all inhibitions go. My feet are in terrible, terrible shape from standing all day the last couple days, but even I couldn’t help busting a move or two. When a band pushes you beyond the limits even you thought you’d go, there’s something special there. How are YACHT not huge right now?
The members of Vivian Girls are nothing if not productive. Their first two records as a band were released within one year of each other in 2008 and 2009, but they didn’t put out anything new in 2010, unless you count the All Saints Day side project of “Kickball Katy” Goodman (paired with Gregg Foreman of Cat Power’s backing band), as they released an EP last year. But if you think that indicates maybe they’re not actually so productive, you haven’t glanced at what they have set for 2011. Cassie Ramone has already put out an album with her friend Kevin Morby of Woods under the name The Babies. She’ll additionally have a full solo record out later this year too. Goodman has her own solo side project (with backing band) under the name La Sera, and that self-titled debut album is out this week. Not only that, but next month the third Vivian Girls album, “Share the Joy” will be released. Four records in one year from the two principal members of Vivian Girls? Apparently most of that “down” time in 2010 was spent in the studio. As such, you can call Cassie and Katy any number of things, but lazy is not one of them. Tackling these projects one by one as they’re released (you can read a review of The Babies’ self-titled album here), let’s talk La Sera.
Vivian Girls’ sound for their first two records at least was pretty well affixed with the lo-fi label, given their penchant for fuzzed out guitars and very poor recording quality. There was a ramshackle punk ethos about it though, DIY in the best sort of way, with hooks sometimes sharp enough to cut you amidst all the disarray. Cassie Ramone is the primary singer and songwriter for Vivian Girls, though Goodman is never far behind in terms of adding vocal harmonies or even taking the lead herself on occasion. With La Sera she’s front and center where the spotlight is firmly affixed on her vocals and words and the way these songs on the self-titled debut are put together. The sound is generally much sparser and smoother than Vivian Girls, in that there’s less in the way of noisy electric guitars and other loud bits to put more emphasis on Goodman’s singing. On the slow-paced opening track “Beating Heart”, a very cleanly picked single guitar pairs up with Goodman’s voice and some serenely gorgeous backing harmonies. There’s a very lush and fragile feel to the track, and a louder, rustic-sounding electric guitar that emerges in the final minute of the song provides a nice assist in antiquating things just right. First single “Never Come Around” is much more fuller-sounding and classic-sounding effort, providing some echoes of some female-fronted pop from the 60s. At a mere 2 minutes long, it does a whole lot of damange for such a brief period of time. Not only does the hook come at you rapid-fire style, but the interweaving vocal harmony that emerges in the final 40 seconds succeeds at taking the track to the next level where it needs to be to firmly implant itself in your memory. The way “You’re Going to Cry” begins with a sweetly strummed acoustic guitar and a lightly punched snare/cymbal combination projects folk ideals at first before complicating things with double-tracked vocals and harmonies along with a smattering of electric guitar for good measure. For such a lyrically dark song, the rather upbeat mid-tempo melody is deceptive and just a little bit fun, much like the odd sense of wonderment in Goodman’s singing.
A track like “Sleeptalking” verges on surf rock, a bit jangly and relaxed but also without a whole lot of substance. It may clock in at under 2 minutes, but there are two verses, a bridge and a chorus that strikes at least 3 times all packed into an arrangement that isn’t particularly built to handle it. There’s too much trying to be accomplished and as a result things get overly simplified to the point where the song ends up being less effective than was hoped. “I Promise You” is very much a throwback girl group pop song, all lovelorn and infused with strong harmonies. An organ shows up near the end of the track and strongly aids in providing some additional warmth. You kind of get the impression that were things sped up significantly and washed over in layers of distortion that it’d make for a wonderful Vivian Girls track. Goodman’s alternately slower and sparser approach brings out much more of the emotion and that turns out to be a good thing. Despite the bright acoustic guitars and handclaps, “Left This World” doesn’t feel quite like a fully developed song for two reasons. First, Goodman’s vocal is surprisingly weak in this case, almost demo-like at moments. Secondly, the melody doesn’t go anywhere. By hitting the same chords over and over again, there’s something just a little unimaginative about it compared to much of what came before it. While “Devils Hearts Grow Gold” could serve to be just a little bit catchier, it does benefit from the double-tracked vocals and the sneaky addition of some steel guitar for just a hint of country twang. “Dove Into Love” retains a little bit of that as it stretches into a dreamier pop, even incorporating what sounds a lot like a flute near the end. It’s kind of funny that “Been Here Before” is exactly how the title describes it, and that’s all that really needs to be said. And “Lift Off” is a lighter, pretty delightful close to the album, but is problematic in its barely over a minute runtime. The song feels aborted shortly before it reaches full term. Give it another 30 seconds and a run through of the chorus and it could have been great instead of just pretty good.
What La Sera really proves, more than anything else, is that “Kickball Katy” Goodman is in fact more talented than she’s shown us previously. It’s less a case of us thinking she’s not talented and more a case of being a consistent second fiddle to her Vivian Girls cohort Cassie Ramone. By turning in a product that is 100% fully her, we’re now able to better grasp the scope of what she has to offer. Turns out, La Sera’s self-titled debut is pretty damn good. It’s no Vivian Girls, but it’ll do. There’s plenty of potential that’s only lightly explored here, and that leaves plenty of room to grow for the future. There are a handful of missteps, to be sure, and hopefully they’re the sort of mistakes you learn from and move on. Though it is a full 12 tracks, none of the songs make it to the 3 minute mark, and the entire thing clocks in at around 26 minutes. There’s no official cut-off point for going too short on an album, but you do want to make it seem more substantial than just your average EP. After all, Sufjan Stevens put out an EP last year that was over twice the length of this La Sera record. The positive and negative coming from such brevity is that whether you’re on a good song or a bad one, you know it’ll be over quickly. Such a fun little jaunt is something you don’t have to take too seriously and it lends itself to a healthy repeat value. If you’re going to keep putting out music as short as this though, the goal should be “all killer, no filler”.
It’s been about a year and a half since The Babies first emerged onto the music scene, and the band was birthed thanks to Woods’ Kevin Morby and Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone. They were sharing an apartment in New York for a period of time, and wrote a handful of songs together. Bringing in drummer Justin Sullivan from the band Bossy, they wound up recording a number of songs and playing some live shows, but had no established plan as to how or when they were going to release them. The first taste of Babies’ recorded material came via their Myspace page back in August of 2009 when the songs “All Things Come to Pass” and “Meet Me in the City” appeared there. Other than that though and the occasional show, The Babies have been relatively quiet. Thanks to Shrimper though, their self-titled debut album will finally emerge from the womb next Tuesday.
The Babies’ sound really carries a lot of the DNA from the two parent bands of Woods and Vivian Girls. Woods has a very lo-fi/no-fi classic and stoner rock-informed sound, and Vivian Girls do lo-fi jangly garage pop. Put them together and it amounts to lo-fi stoner garage pop, which is probably the easiest way to define it. Morby is the chief songwriter for the band, though he shares vocal duties pretty equally with Ramone either in the form of duets, backing vocals/harmonies or switching off tackling full songs solo. The whole thing has a very relaxed and informal vibe to it as well, which helps to not take the songs too seriously when listening to them. Opening track and unofficial single “Run Me Over” is a very bouncy and catchy rock song, pretty perfectly melding some ramshackle grunge-ish guitars with a dose of psychedelic haze. “Sunset” feels a lot like a lost Pixies track, and while Morby is no Frank Black, Ramone does a fantastic Kim Deal with a touch of Kim Gordon. “All Things Come to Pass” is pretty much a Ramone solo cut, but it bears a lot of Woods’ sound in a very nice campfire singalong style sort of way. Then “Meet Me in the City” does a nice job of pulling a Vivian Girls via Wavves sort of thing, with Morby at the lead vocal helm and Ramone providing some nice backup harmonies. “Personality” has a lot of what the title suggests, a raucous punk track that rages for under 90 seconds before flaming out like it should. Everything sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom somewhere, and it bears the marks of a band like The Misfits or The Dead Kennedys, though not quite with the sense of outrage those bands tended to promote. Funny then that a song like “Breakin’ the Law”, which you’d expect to be pretty anti-establishment, is one of the album’s slower cuts that tells the story of a Bonnie and Clyde-like couple that have “retired” from committing crimes. “Wild I” is perhaps the most emotionally raw and beautiful song that Cassie Ramone has ever done with any of her projects. It’s a dark and rather depressing track with layers of electric guitars that speak perfectly to the tone. “I’m so tired of waking up/to the pain that’s inside my head/it’s a pain that you never had”, she sings at one point, channeling a mixture of Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and a half dozen other scorned women going through a bad breakup. The track that follows it is “Wild II”, with Morby taking on the male perspective in this failed relationship. He chooses to take the higher road and a little brighter view of things, essentially saying that he tried to make things work, and though they didn’t in the end, he’s confident that there’s somebody else out there for him. It lacks the conviction and layered melody of its predecessor but still does a decent job getting the point across.
In Woods, Kevin Morby plays bass and doesn’t really do any writing or singing. Courtesy of The Babies, he now has the opportunity to do both. He’s not exactly amazing at either, but he fares just decently enough. When compared to his side project bandmate Cassie Ramone, he’s clearly the weaker link. For a band like The Babies though, with the slacker melodies and lo-fi aesthetic, such things like vocal ability and brilliant wordplay are low on the priority list. Instead, catchy melodies and fun vibes are king, which thankfully The Babies seem to have in spades. This self-titled debut is a nice, low pressure respite from the higher expectations of both members’ day jobs. Treat it with kid gloves and you’ll find that it’s pretty easy to fall in love with something that’s largely still in its infant state. Okay, no more baby puns.