The Babies, a collaboration between Woods bassist Kevin Morby and Vivian Girls guitarist Cassie Ramone, dropped their sophomore album, Our House on the Hill, last week on the Woodsist label. The effort feels nostalgically familiar, blending guitar tones from late 90s staples like Pavement and contemporary indie-pop like Best Coast and the New Pornographers, wavering lyrically between superficial silliness and stoic seriousness to create one of our favorite albums of the year.
Opener “Alligator” delivers two minutes of pop bliss and acts as a hook for the entire sequence of songs that follows. (Though perhaps unintentional, I found delightful that the melodic shift in the whining guitar solo near the song’s end recalled the melody of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.” Get it? Alligator? Crocodile?) “Slow Walking” and “Mess Me Around” both employ upbeat raucous song structures before “Get Lost” emerges as one of the album’s strongest cuts. At only three minutes and nineteen seconds, it still registers as a pop song, but it’s the longest of the first four tracks and utilizes the extra space to develop provocative shifts that display a new depth and dexterity for the duo.
Though Morby handles vocals on more of the songs than not, Ramone’s contributions of “Baby,” “See the Country,” and “Chase It To The Grave,” as well as her background crooning in a slew of tracks are pleasant deviations from the Morby’s tonal range.
“Mean,” right in the middle of the sequence stands out as the black sheep, but, God, does it pay off. I can’t stop listening to this track, which features Dylanesque vocal climbs and falls, acoustic guitar, and saxophone. Yes, you read that right. “Moonlight Mile” offers the second half of the album’s strongest song. With organ and background vocals from Ramone, the song recalls early Spoon, which is a very good thing. Our House on the Hill consistently delivers late-album quality tracks in the reverb-laden “See the Country” and the acoustic guitar-driven “That Boy.” The latter features straightforward and powerful references to coping with death as Morby sings, “Oh, lord, it’s like an earthquake/ sometimes I get so scared I can’t breathe/ and the ground moves right out from beneath my feet.”
Our House on the Hill embodies the essence of indie-rock, full of emotional depth and raw energy contained within economically efficient lyricism and tight pop songs. It’s an album I loved upon first listen, and that has only grown more true with each subsequent experience. The Babies will play in Austin on December 14th at the Mohawk, and you can bet that Pop Press International will be in attendance for the show.