The New Limb - Sounds People Can Hear
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: April 3, 2010
The New Limb are an indie-folk quartet from Costa Mesa, CA, that was formed in 2008. Sounds People Can Hear is their third release and first full-length. It was produced by Tom Mgrdichian.
How is it?
Terrific. Sprite vernal anthems never get old and California's The New Limb has fashioned an album filled to the brim with exactly that. Thirteen songs laden with airy, hip-shaking melodies, resplendent keys, male-female vocal harmonies and a bevy of unexpected twists and turns. Opener "Autumn Leaves," has a centrifugal pull from the very first seconds. As it expands, xylophones, drums and bass kick in. The entire movement is placid, acoustic and serene. Second cut "Ebb and Flow," is slow and plodding and bobs along with a confidence and professionalism that is both surprising and defiant. Can this band really be unsigned?
And so it continues, from the airy pop anthem "Birds and Stuff," which tackles romantic longevity and permanence to the bubbly, hip-shaking "We Forgive You, Gene." Of the album's first four offerings none are clunkers and that trend is continued on the slow-moving languor of hammock song "Breathe Tenderly," a dusty, nuanced nugget that balances Colin Meloy vocal inflections with Beach Boys melodicism. If it sounds like high praise, that's probably because The New Limb most deserve it. On the heels of "Breathe Tenderly," is the Laurel Canyon-esque, "I Know You Know," which in many ways introduces the band's penchant for spastic and puzzling nuances. Swerving left and right at a spastic pace, "I Know You Know," feels more like a psychedelic mind trick than a pop song, but hey there are worse criticisms, no? The circular "Cycle Mother Earth," is dizzying and schizophrenic and the entire performance gets haggard quickly.
Thankfully, the placid "Sarah," comes next and Lauren Salmone's deft piano work helps carry this song to the promised land. Of all the songs on the album, few are as good as this. Whether its the palpable restraint or the band's inherent skill at crafting ballads, everything about "Sarah," feels right. After the 23-second filler piece "Sounds People Can Make," the album moves towards the latter half and introduces more of the band's best work. "Fire Song," is rousing and exuberant, while "Phil and Marie," is straightforward, twinkling and nothing short of stunning. If one song from this album is meant to stand on a pedestal, it very well might be this. Carrying a decidedly Ben Folds-esque sentiment, vocalist Joey Chavez sounds weary, worn out and downright despondent, and those very traits help make the exercise that much more potent. But then the band goes for something entirely foolhardy.
Tackling The Cure classic "Bizarre Love Triangle," and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," with accordion and piano flourishes is a novel idea, but why have it sit this late in the album, and more to the point, why release it at all? Gimmicks are cute and worthy of merit, but nothing about Sounds People Can Hear is reckless or off-the mark. Using a trick like this is in many ways a crutch and a band this talented certainly doesn't need a crutch. In an attempt to atone for this mistake, THe New Limb presents "Vagaries," another spastic and unpredictable slab at pop weirdness. There's electric flourishes and the song vacillates between chiming piano and club beats. What exactly the band is going for is anyone's guess, but this attempt at originality just feels a bit askew. And thankfully, almost miraculously, the spartan acoustic ballad, "We Were Children," closes it out, allowing ever-capable vocalist Joey Chavez the chance to let his voice rise to the top. And in just under four minutes, The New Limb has managed to say and do so much with so little.
That very sentiment is what makes Sounds People Can Hear so troubling. Clearly this band is talented. Warm, confident vocals; sterling piano lines; and winsome guitar work never gets old, and very little about this disc is alienating. But there are moments of head-scratching shifts and swerves that leaves the entire listening experience a bit staticky, but being that the quartet is young, relatively new and still feeling their way through their abilities, one can't fault youthful indiscretion every now and then. In the end, this is a band that could probably find themselves at Coachella or Bonnarroo before 2012. A lofty statement sure, but this band is indeed this good. One listen to Sounds People Can Hear proves just that.