The Babies, Our House on the Hill, Woodsist Records
There is a certain understanding about side projects. It’s usually a given they’re never as great as the sum of their parts, that “side” is often a euphemism for a wayward vanity project or an unnecessary afterthought. A side project, by nature, surely shouldn’t be centre-stage worthy. Cassie Ramone– Of Vivian Girls– and Woods‘ Kevin Morby obviously didn’t get that memo as the aptly named fruit of their musical loins, The Babies, are back to buck the rules with their second album, Our House on The Hill.
Taking their respective backgrounds in jangly noise and hazy folk, Ramone and Morby– along with drummer Justin Sullivan and bassist Brian Schleyer– create songs that are at once youthful and reflective, employing the best parts of their expertise while they’re at it. The girl/boy vocals are pleasingly reminiscent of The Vaselines and come with all the self involved dramatics of teenage heartbreak (‘Slow Walkin’s “All these things you do to my heart make me wanna die”) and a side helping of sneering self deprecation in the expletive splattered ‘Mess Me Around’ (“You’re a dumn fuck/You fucking idiot”). The romantic moments of ‘Get Lost’ are as genuine as they are untraditional, seeing Morby pleading with a girl he wants to get high with, while the wounded vulnerability of ‘Mean’ shows the band haven’t forgotten the value of simplicity. Opener ‘Alligator’ is a bittersweet highlight, a lament to love just out of reach and the introspective sorrow of closer ‘Wandering’ is a perfect finale to a record navigating through life with jaded eyes
Though the wronged man is an too too familiar figure in music, Morby’s slant on it is charming and peppered with humour. He possesses the deadpan voice of disaffected youth which we can’t help but love, especially when set against Ramone. Its unseasonal summery veneer betrays its at times darker tone, acting less as an ode to youth as to the odiousness of youth and though it has the feel of stoned hipster kids in a Brooklyn loft apartment, it is utterly loveable.
Our House On The Hill is a cleaner cut, more focused record than The Babies‘ debut, with the scuzzier, lo fi edges shaved down a little. Infused with the nonchalance of Pavement and the playful side of The Pastels, it of course sounds like a past era but fits perfectly in our 2012 music collection. It isn’t ground breaking but that doesn’t detract from it being a brilliant album. The band has a grasp of a pop sensibility that is rarely reached by their underground counterparts, even less so by their second album and there is a curious comfort and familiarity to the tracks that merely reflects their keen songmanship. Starting off as sweetly ramshackle and later threaded with folkier moments, the record, to paraphrase the immortal words of Donny & Marie is a little bit folky, a little bit rock & roll.
So though it was initially started as a (whisper it) side project, it seems the band’s collective energies have inadvertently and wholeheartedly been diverted; It’s the only way to explain how accomplished they already sound. Maybe they haven’t been around too long but still they’ve come a long way, Babies.