Sometimes when listening to music – particularly new music – it becomes pretty apparent when a group or artists is having a good time with their material. And other times, it's pretty clear they're not – and that's fine, especially when that challenge and struggle is part of the artistic output itself. But sometimes, its rewarding to find a band or performer genuinely enjoying themselves, whether that's limited to a specific song or spanning the course of an entire album or concert. This is abundantly clear on In Light, the debut full-length offering from the Lafayette, Louisiana-based quintet, Givers, released on June 7 on Glassnote Music.
Across the record's 10 tracks, the five-piece blends a mix of the infectious energy and wide-ranging portfolio of fun., instrumental and compositional experimentation in the Peter Gabriel tradition and a bit of pop clarity, much like fellow recent entrants on the scene, Tennis. The tag-team lead vocals of percussionist Tiffany Lamson and guitarist Taylor Guarisco provide a refreshing pace on efforts like the opener and first single, "Up Up Up." The world beat rhythms are a departure from the sort of material usually reviewed here, but are thoroughly upbeat and unite the same type of reggae/ska guitar riffs and brisk shuffle found on fun.'s "Walking the Dog." The tradeoff vocals between Lamson and Guarisco are particularly effective here, as Guarisco's pattern indie-rock polish contrasts well with Lamson's more raspy sound. Meanwhile, the concluding fifth of the number's four and a half minutes are nicely framed by multi-instrumentalist Nick Stephan's ringing keyboards and flute interludes, and a bit of crunch from Guarisco's guitar.
Unlike last week's profilees – They Might Be Giants, who offered a compilation of song snippet ideas – the Givers focus on more fleshed-out compositions, none shorter than the mid-album, mid-tempo "Ceiling of Plankton." Although the track's title sounds more like a wayward Phish jam, the cut links quasi-calypso beats and Stephan's flute with more yawning, Radiohead-style verses and choruses. And like other selections across the record, the tune's closing measures swirl about with a combination of exuberance and precision – never an easy pairing. That same meshing of disparate sounds is also located on the collection's second offering, "Meantime." After what starts out as a darker, nearly Pinkerton-era Weezer sound, it quickly jumps over into a more spirited romp for the chorus, and then back again in the verse. It may come off as a bit disjointed in the first few listens, but stiffens up with listener familiarity.
The collection's most adventurous – and enjoyable – presentations are the brisk march of "Saw You First" and the rock gospel of "Noche Nada." The former recalls one of the few tolerable Dave Matthews Band songs, "Two Step," with its pulsing snare and pronounced staccato, while the latter is continually spinning about overlapping and communal choral waves much like Gabriel's best work in the '70s and '80s, with a touch of Vampire Weekend's "A-Punk" emerging in spurts.
Lamson earns a pair of turns out front solo, in "Ripe" and "Atlantic." Her vocal similarities with Alaina Moore of Tennis are most apparent on these cuts – they share a common cadence but not timbre, as Lamson's lines sound filtered more through bourbon than Moore's honeydew-flavored pitch. As for the songs themselves, they fit well within the record's broader verve – spirited and punchy, although "Atlantic" is a tad more reserved than its earlier-appearing counterpart.
The penultimate "Go Out All Night" should be earmarked for the encore, as it's decidedly the album's most ballady affair, although Stephan's wafting Hammond organs and Guarisco's guitar harmonies at its zenith suggest far more classic rock influence than displayed elsewhere. Conversely, the closing "Words" needs to brought further out front, with a near Arcade Fire level of enthusiasm and synergy belling it's wrap-up track assignment.
Come for: "Up Up Up"
Stay for: "Noche Nada"
You'll be surprised by: "Words"