Held in Splendor
When I worked at a music store as a teenager, I did a lot of daydreaming as I wandered the aisles. One of these whimsical tangents I had was that I noticed the “Q” section seemed to be monopolized by Queen, Queens of the Stone Age, and maybe Queensryche. Were there not any other “Q” bands out there that didn’t have anything to do with some sort of monarchy? Wouldn’t a non-queen “Q” band stand out, therefore drawing more attention to music aisle dreamers like me? Almost 20 years later from those days of mine comes Quilt, a band that could have lived on the shelves 50 years ago with a throwback 60’s folk-psychedelic sound. Quilt are releasing their second album Held in Splendor which sees them becoming more confident with their nostalgic sound that has some solid songs, but still seems like it’s trapped in the polished framework of modern production.
The album starts with a slow subtle track in “Arctic Shark”. Before any of you amateur marine biologists pipe in, there is such a thing, a Greenland Shark being the most notable. As for the song, it’s a bit of a sleepy start, even though it does feature a classic sitar-like guitar riff that fits their retro vibe. “Saturday Bride” then brings out some rock in the folk-rock, and does get the album rolling the way it should. While Anna Fox Rochinski took lead vocals on the first track, they went for more harmonious ones on the second, “Eye of the Pearl” sees Shane Butler on more of the lead, and while it harkens back to the slower pace, his vocal stanzas seem to stand out more than Rochiniski’s.
“Mary Mountain” shows them seemingly at their best, slightly uptempo with vocal harmonies, it’s a perfect throwback hippie-era track, except for the fact that it sounds too much like a modern song. “Tie Up the Tides” shows that Rochinski’s lead vocal songs do work, and the retro sound is actually strongly prominent. The problem that might be happening is that the 60’s folk-rock revival has a niche audience, but it sounds like Quilt is branching out to try to appease to modern pop-rock sensibilities. It could just be in the way they record it, or they don’t have enough time-travelling gigawatts, but it feels like they fall just a little bit short in what they’re trying to achieve each time. “The Hollow” is a quick little guitar-folk driven track which leads into a “A Mirror” and “Just Dust”, solid up-tempo numbers that mark the middle of the album, and even though the songs are under three minutes, it feels like the album is already getting long. “The World is Flat” resets the album somewhat with an instrumental track which gives the album a deep inhale of fresh air. “Tired and Buttered” then comes steaming out with the sound of the 60’s from earlier in the album, but there is more of a modern drive that hasn’t appeared until now. You’d think there would be a more straight-forward pattern on the album, but Quilt does prove to be patchwork again in “Secondary Swan” by producing a more classically sounding song. You could probably insert this song seamlessly onto any folk-rock record from the 60’s more than any other on this album. Rochinski does her best Joni Mitchell in the haunting “Talking Trains”, before the album wraps up with a harmonious lullaby in “I Sleep in Nature”, it actually builds into a surprising dancey jig.
There is a world that Quilt lives in, and it’s obviously the world of 2014, even if the sound that they want to emulate is that of the 1960’s. They seem fully aware of this and take ideas from the past and present and patch them together on Held in Splendor. There’s a lot to like on this album, especially for one that might not be privy to that retro sound, but I wonder if they’d be better served with making a shorter album just rooted in straight direction rather than a broader smorgasbord.
– Michael Unger