Friday, November 23, 2012

The Babies Rock Their Hill House LP

Brian Schleyer and Cassie Ramone
When The Babies broke their 7-inch Moonlight Mile last August, it was a wild swing in the right direction for the Brooklyn-based band made up of Kevin Morby (Woods), Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls), Justin Sullivan (Bossy), and and Brian Schleyer (Big Soda). The single was also part of a bigger effort to deliver a rootsier, dirtier and more purposeful sound, one that is showcased on their newest release.

Most of Our House On The Hill brings a new cohesion to the ensemble, solidifying the band as anything but a side project. Many of the best tracks hit harder than psych pop, spiraling away from their prior work and allowing The Babies to come into their own as a garage rock/pop band, with some folk infusion. Yes, there are some misses here but the hits are strong enough to shake things up.

Our House On The Hill rocks more than the cradle. 

Whereas Moonlight Mile was about getting lost in the middle of nowhere, the best track on the album, Get Lost, is a powerfully lustful alternative rocker about getting lost in someone. The lyrics are simple and direct. The music is jagged and explosive while keeping the folk rock honesty with a bit more intensity.

Sure, there is better writing across the whole of the album, but Morby delivers Get Lost with a such a convincing reckless abandon at times that it will become a call out song for the band, much like Caroline did two years ago. It's easy to relate to and feel good about Get Lost.

The album opener, Alligator, is much more pathological in offering up the mixed bag that makes up life. You might not have a job, love, or any apparent plans but you can still make small talk without being sardonic. Why? Because most of it is just a matter of time before something turns out right.

After Alligator, The Babies lay down the notion that although Ramone is mostly at home on lead guitar, she can be an equally powerful vocal partner. In the case of this duet, she contrasts Morby's roughness with a sweet doo-wop styling from the 1950s. Slow Walking is a playful throwback that breaks up some of the best full-throttled material.

Ramone takes the lead on other vocals too, but not always the best songs. Baby is too sloppy to be appreciated as a studio track and probably plays better live. See The Country seems half-baked, almost creasing the impression that the band wanted to capitalize on the appetite they created with Moonlight Mile. Don't get me wrong. Her wistful vocals are right for the song, but the lyrics here are among the least inspired.

Much better for Ramone is the duet Chase It To The Grave. She delivers the opening lyrics with a patented matter-of-fact and nearly medicated tone to ward off Morby from chasing his dreams, the passion he brings to the piece makes it work. The song is all right, lending to the case that The Babies are at their best when they cut loose.

In fact, not all Morby led songs are perfect either. The horn work is the best thing to come out of Mean, an acoustic with Morby taking on the plight and point of view of a sad sack. His other mellow offering, Wandering, is filled with promise that never quite materializes until late in the track.

Much better is Mess Me Around, which lands somewhere between pathological and paranoia while never losing the collaborative irony that is frequently laced into the Morby-Ramone songs. Morby starts the song off with some worry about things to come until it becomes patently clear any messing around was likely invited. It's a dare to have the worst done.

Our House On The Hill Rolls Around 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Scale. 

As an entire album, House On The Hill falls slightly short of what it could have been. Yet, the album makes up for it with a few choice songs like Get Lost, Alligator, Mess Me Around, and Moonlight Mile (assuming you held off the 7-incher). Still, The Babies are a band to watch and the one band I really want to succeed because the pairing Morby and Ramone is perfect.

Our House On The Hill by The Babies is ready for some cherry-picked downloads at iTunes. You can also find the album at Barnes & Noble or pick up Our House On the Hill from Amazon. For more backgrounder notes, check out our previous review of Moonlight Mile. The Babies are currently on tour. You'll find their weaker material on the album stands up much better on stage except when they feel shoegazey.
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