A slow sting
The bad news is that Wendy Weihs has moved to Los Angeles and taken her voice with her. The good news is that Baltimore’s remaining HEARTS BY DARTS, long-time conspirators Sei Petersen and Mike Evitts, captured an album’s worth before she left and continue on with designs for a new lead singer. On their self-titled debut, released in late March on Peapod, they have forged an ethereal collection of guitar-drenched dirges that can be surprisingly uplifting and melodic, a cross between My Bloody Valentine and local acts like Anna’s Ghost and Matt Rock (accordion fans, both), or Seekonk, but less pretty.
The Darts, HXD to insiders, have some classic indie pop-rock tendencies — riding two notes instead of strumming chords, absent or subtle choruses, purposefully sour vocals at times — but often slow things down to an Idaho/Low kind of grind, where it’s hard to find the rock or the pop. Still, they can write a hook. “Cumulus,” opening with a muffled kick drum and snare, joined by an accordion and bass, then a bit of clangy guitar, features an irresistible central phrase: “He talks/So much/About the weather/But never steps outside.” There’s something about that “steps outside,” instead of maybe “goes outside,” that says something about the good choices the band make, with small flourishes in the back melody or the way instruments finish riffs in unison, or a verse of “la, la, la, la, la” five times in a row.
This is a smart, thoughtful album (you’ve got to love a couplet like “The friend of my friend becomes my enemy/And there’s more of you for me”) you can simply let wash over you like an incoming tide. You might not notice each inch of creep, but you’ll find yourself neck deep nonetheless.
A delicious taste
Recorded live in December in HONEY CLOUDS’ practice space, EARL GREY DEMOS is a salve for those of us still suffering from the wounds left by Harpswell Sound’s breakup. Back together are frontman Trey Hughes, he of the warbly vocals and meandering narratives, and guitarist Ron Harrity, Peapod honcho and a man who knows how to get great tone. They’ve teamed this time with Diamond Sharp bassist Mandy Wheeler and drummer/bingo-host Sean “Country Rhodes” Wilkinson to fuse their alt-country sound with indie rock and create a charmingly jangly group of songs that give you a lot to listen to and for, à la Magnolia Electric Co. or Built to Spill.
Certainly more upbeat and aggressive than the two albums and an EP that Harspwell released, Honey Clouds still have a way of being melancholy regardless of the idyllic setting Hughes might describe. The scenes painted here use a palette of nostalgia that can sometimes be laid on with a heavy hand — “We used to see/All kinds of crazy bikes rolling down the street/Our yard was insane/All wrapped around the house/Lush from the rain” — but generally the songs are better for the textured ridges left behind.
The 10 songs here are all more than four minutes long, which allows for a number of transitions and variations in rhythm and pacing, playfulness and creativity that augur well for this band’s first proper “studio” release, should it come. Maybe they’ll sustain the steam that went out of Harpswell Sound. As Hughes sings in “Color Spills In,” “well I guess we can turn around/But the air smells green, yeah, just green/There’s a slight chill lingering on these hills.” Yes, the chills may linger.