The Babies, ‘Our House on the Hill’ – Album Review
Nostalgia, guitar solos, slacker jams, introspection, depression, hope: It's the stuff of youth, and it all fits into ‘Our House on the Hill,’ the second album from the Babies, a peanut butter sandwich of a record that is delicious in its familiarity. And perhaps a little unhealthy.
A collaboration between Kevin Morby of Woods and Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls, ‘Our House’ is immediately rewarding, though in the long term, it's perhaps not as satisfying as more challenging rock listens. Some of these tracks make for a rollicking good time, and the opening ‘Alligator’ showcases Morby’s clever lyrical swerving and mood swings. “Life is funny, life's a laugh / Life is lonely, yeah it's a drag,” he sings, documenting the lurching sensitivities of the love-prone romantic, setting the course for the record.
The 12 songs here are varied exercises in genre conventions. Ramone’s vocals weave around Morby’s sneer on ‘Slow Walking,’ creating sweet, grungy pop. When they’re at their slowest, the Babies recall the Velvet Underground. ‘Mean,’ for instance, has the aw-shucks honesty of a vulnerable Lou Reed. Surf-pop is the last thread that ties the aesthetic together—the ooh-ooh-oohs on ‘Moonlight Mile’ have a Californian shine to them, which is fitting, since the album was recorded in two Los Angeles weeks with producer Rob Barbato.
Still, for all the enjoyment the familiar can bring, it can also yield mediocrity. Some of these songs feel like filler. Though Ramone sings honey sweet on ‘See the Country,’ her geographic surveying lacks in emotional impact. There’s a similar banality to ‘On My Team.’ Clearly, Morby has spent long hours with Brit rock, but the London-lite sound tastes saccharine.
The Babies are most effective when they’re at their most vulnerable. The final three tracks are all melancholy jams. ‘That Boy,’ with the chorus of “That boy and his heartache / blind as a bat about the birds and the bees” is affecting in its simplicity, a selection of adolescent prayers set against minor chords. Maturation and grounded determination animates ‘Chase It to the Grave,’ with Morby nonchalantly declaring, "I've got a dream in my head / I’m going to chase it to the grave,” before Ramone joins him for the fadeout, expressing equal parts desperation and determination. That is, you might say, the sound of youth.