Vancouver slacker pop trio the Courtneys have been quiet since releasing their sophomore album, The Courtneys II, in 2017. But titular guitarist Courtney Garvin is back with a new project, the L.A.-based Gum Country, which also features multi-instrumentalist Connor Mayer. With rose-tinted melancholy, wanderlust, driving melodies, and guitar chops, the duo’s debut album, Somewhere, offers plenty for Courtneys fans to revel in. But there’s enough to set Somewhere apart from her established oeuvre. Gum Country call their sound “harsh twee,” and rightly so. “It Lives, It Breathes, It Feeds” is catchy and toothy with a slight grunge snarl. Fuzzed out cruiser “Jungle Boy” and “There’s A Crumb” are heavier handed than what we’re used to hearing from Garvin; the loud-quiet-loud dynamic and faint background vocals of “There’s A Crumb” call to mind ’90s forebearers like the Breeders. The title-track cascades like a Yo La Tengo drifter.
And speaking of drifting, it’s hard to listen to the Courtneys without losing yourself in a daydream, imagining yourself blasting down the highway with the windows down and no destination in mind. Listening to Somewhere, however, a sense of displacement overtakes any feeling of freedom. Written a couple of years after moving to L.A., the title-track deals with “leaving a place that you are comfortable in and landing in a strange new one, and discovering
what parts of your identity remain and which were left behind,” Garvin explains. “Sit around with my thoughts, feeling like something I’m not. Maybe for now, that’s all I’ve got,” she sings on “Tennis” as a keyboard line zips along below her.
Ultimately, “Somewhere” glistens with a brightness that captures the thrill of major life change. Chunky fuzz-rock track “The Queen Rules” is more explicitly optimistic: “I take a trip for reasons unknown. I’m pleased to see a face that I know,” she sings. Sometimes, her ruminations about isolation even take humorous form, like on “Talking To My Plants.” Once again, keys appear here, albeit in a smaller dose than on “Tennis,” proving that it doesn’t take much to enhance a well-worn palette.
On the final track, “Waterfall,” Garvin sings: “The roar of falling water, as endless as time itself. Your anxieties will melt the comfort of its sound.” A deluge of guitar rushes down to close out the album. Although she doesn’t seem to find closure or comfort at the end of Somewhere emotionally, sonically, she sounds like she’s been washed anew. And like any personal development, it’s all about small, gradual steps.
review by Leslie Chu
Somewhere will be self-released digitally on June 19 and on vinyl by Kingfisher Bluez (Canada), cassette via Burger Records (USA), Dinosaur City Records (Australia) plus CD via Waterslide Records (Japan). Pre-order it here.