The problem with a quiet record is that it can be easily ignored. Think of releases by Bon Iver or Iron & Wine. They dont arrive with fireworks and trumpets. You can listen to them once and then forget they exist. You can listen to them several times and still not take notice of what they contain. Frequently youre compelled to listen to one of these understated releases months after its release. One moment you just want to listen to the album, and you dont know why. Then it makes sense and youre not sure why you didnt always appreciate it.
Such is the danger in forming an opinion of A Weathers sophomore LP, Everyday Balloons. However Ior any listenerfeels about it now, the album will probably gain more appreciation as the year wears on. The five-piece Portland band hasnt simply created a quiet album, as there are dynamic flourishes here and there, but it has created songs that make you do some of the work. On Seven Blankets, leading male vocalist and songwriter Aaron Gerber lets the lyrics lazily fall from his lips while singer and drummer Sarah Winchester echoes him just as slovenly. The two sound as if they barely have the energy to push the words out, which matches the sluggish drumming and sparse guitar. On first listen the song is the epitome of the most common criticism lobbied at indie acts: lazy vocals by singers who sound bored. True, this music isnt lively, but Gerber and Winchester know when to become part of the music and when to stand out. That maneuvering is exciting to hear when so many acts either push the vocals too far to the front or they get lost in mix on every track.
On Fond, the band creates a smoky number that allows Gerber and Winchester to trade off lines like a longtime lounge act who knows the difference between playful and cheesy. In this way the vocalists are similar to Damien Rice and his one-time collaborator Lisa Hannigan. Like Rice and Hannigan, Gerber and Winchester sound like theyre singing to a longtime friend, an ex, and a current lover. Their delivery is a blank slate for you to project onto it whatever you want. The playfulness of Fond sits nicely against the brooding and cheekily titled Happiness. They both drone, Spinning like a set of keys, the wind was jingling and saying Come on, girl, its time to go for a ride As the rhythm picks up, you expect a bombastic finish, but what you get is an abrupt drop-off that gives way to a brief interlude of a deconstructed melody. These cheeky moments pop up throughout the album and are the flashes of playfulness that the vocals lack and the lyrics only hint at.
What the lyrics do employ often and successfully are concrete moments. While the songs avoid narrative arcs, they give glimpses into believable momentsperhaps memories, perhaps observations. The last track, Lay Me Down, begins, Your umbrella is fighting hard against the strong gale blowing off of the Atlantic, shuddering around your brown hair. For seven minutes, Gerber and Winchester weave their voices together while the music pulls back for a few measures and then races forward, often outpacing them. The result is calmest rock frenzy youll ever hear, but its a fitting finale to the record.
Everyday Balloons is impressive after many spins, and its only fault seems to be in its simplicity. Is the album a cohesive unit because most of it is quiet and sleepy? (To be fair, this release is louder than its predecessor.) When is simplicity the result of a lack of creativity and when is it a deliberate choice? I believe the distinction is one you recognize when you listen to the music, and Everyday Balloons falls into the latter. Based on my evolved perception of the album, I suspect that one month or even one year from now it will reveal itself as a surprisingly sophisticated effort from a band happy to take a Trojan Horse route and sneak into your regular rotation. Until then, you can enjoy the work of talented musicians who make music thats easy to listen to.