Four years ago, Woods’ Kevin Morby and Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone decided to create a loose side-project outlet as a way to play house parties in their hometown of Brooklyn, New York. In the time that followed, the project took on a life of its own, and The Babiesbecame more of a well-known name. After recording in Woods’ Rear House studio, the quartet released its eponymous debut album last year and proved that though kinetic, it was hard to branch out from the members’ roots in lo-fi.
For their sophomore effort, The Babies decided to do things a little differently. Instead of recording at Rear House, the band set out West and spent two weeks in Los Angeles working with producer Rob Barbato (Darker My Love, The Fall, Cass McCombs), resulting in a musical direction the first album merely hinted at. Our House On The Hill is still simple, fuzzy garage rock on first listen, but delve deeper and its clear The Babies have matured.
The album begins on a conversational note with its shortest track, “Alligator.” Morby takes the vocal reigns as he sings, “Life is funny/ Life’s a laugh / Life is lonely / It’s a drag,” amidst jangling guitar riffs and romping percussion. Like this track, many of the record’s songs try not to take themselves too seriously, focusing more on catchiness and sing-a-long ability. The acoustic “Mean,” finds Morby and Ramone saying together, “’cause you’re mean, mean, mean, mean and it hurts my feelings / You’re mean, mean, mean, mean, mean, what did I do to deserve this?” as they sing about a lame guy who won’t shut up at a party and admit “I wanna get high with you,” during the guitar-driven “Get Lost,” but the majority of the record’s lyrics contain more substance if you listen intently.
“Mess Me Around,” sounds juvenile to the nonchalant listener, but as Morby sings “I dreamt of the Hell to come / If I didn’t wake up and run / I was swimmin’ in a pool of blood / Squintin’ at the Texas sun,” it’s clear the song’s protagonist has gotten himself into trouble. Driven by galloping drums and simply strummed chords, the story unfolds and we realize our hero is trying to escape from an ill-fated run-in with some charlatans. Morby’s cunning, tongue-in-cheek stories seam the album together and parallel the hint of country-western twang that encompasses the record.
Hill is still far from perfect—lacking much variance between songs—but it’s nice to see that what started as a side project is something its members are taking seriously and improving on album by album.