The Babies Our House on the Hill(Woodsist) Buy it from Insound
It’s not unreasonable to want to underestimate a band like The Babies. It’s already hard enough to truly be impressed by the throngs of jangly guitar-pop bands emerging out of Brooklyn these days, but when said band goes by the name “The Babies,” which could suggest a lacking of any desire to mature, you’re not left with much that helps the group stand out amongst their peers in any significant way. Previously, the group did little to dispel this notion, as their 2011 self-titled debut, a scrappy, lo-fi collection of sunny indie pop, offered a few catchy moments but was incredibly forgettable otherwise. But this doesn’t mean we should have this group instantly pegged, for as we all know, a baby can do quite a bit of growing in a years’ time.
Our House on the Hill, the group’s second full-length album, fully displays this growth in a similar way that band leader Kevin Morby’s other group, Woods, accomplished with their latest effort, Bend Beyond. On that release, the band chose to distance themselves from the experimental, lo-fi tendencies of their previous works in favor of a brighter, more streamlined focus, and it ended up resulting in one of their most impressive albums yet. To an extent, this is what The Babies accomplish with Our House on the Hill. Though they’re basically still the same band that recorded their debut album last year, the group’s latest finds them refining nearly every aspect of their sound, from the albums crisp, full production to the overall songwriting and personality on display, to create what is ultimately an incredibly satisfying power pop album that suggests that The Babies just might be ready to step out of infancy.
Traditionally, the act of cleaning up ones sound and production quality has been a death nail of sorts for garage-bred bands, but in the case of Our House on the Hill, it actually rescues The Babies from a mostly generic standing. The bands potential as competent crafters of pop songs didn’t come out of nowhere, as evidence of this exists in the worn cracks of The Babies. However, the albums home-spun, lo-fi sound, combined with its summertime aesthetic, placed the album and the band itself in the kind of unfortunate indie pop limbo between the bratty-ness of Best Coast and the breeziness of Real Estate. And while the group’s latest album doesn’t necessarily try to leave this sun-soaked approach to garage pop completely in the dust, the production on tracks like Slow Walkin’ and the thrilling Baby offer a breath of vitality and clarity that allow the group to make these tracks all their own despite toying with a sound utilized by many these days.
But “sunny” isn’t the only card that The Babies choose to play this time around, for what really makes Our House on the Hill an impressive leap for the group is the greater sense of diversity in songwriting seen throughout the album. With the lo-fi production of yester-year left out of the picture, the bands new full-bodied sound works to present the band in a new light, casting them as a full-fledged power pop act rather than a scrappy little garage-pop group. This results in incredibly infectious songs, likeGet Lost, On My Team, and opener Alligator, which clearly stand out from one another by containing their own distinct, yet subtle sonic hallmarks while also putting Morby’s voice and personality into greater focus than ever before. Some of the albums strongest moments, however, are the sweeter, more sensitive songs. This is especially the case with Mean, a dreamy little track which sports a light-as-air acoustic guitar line and a sweet, yet robust saxophone embellishment that carries the track miles past its starting point. Though The Babies arguably function more efficiently as a livelier guitar-pop act, delicate moments like Mean reveal a genuine, multifaceted view of a band that only a year ago seemed mostly one-sided.
While it’s hard to say whether or not Our House on the Hill is truly a great album, it’s clear that with this record, The Babies have defiantly surpassed the less-than-lukewarm expectations geared towards them to create a pop record ripe with personality and flavor. The Brooklyn indie-pop flock is growing bigger and bigger by the year, and while The Babies may not necessarily be attempting a breech any time soon, their latest effort shows that they will not keep their head down and remain unnoticed any longer.26 November, 2012 - 11:53 — Peter Quinton