Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Family of the Year

In my last Super Review post, I reserved the right to still publish one-off reviews of individual groups or artists if opportunity and enthusiasm allowed. This is one such occasion, in the form of the Los Angeles-based indie-pop quintet, Family of the Year, and their sophomore full-length release – Loma Vista – which was released this past July on Netwerk Records.

Family of the Year
Release Date: July 10, 2012
New Release: Loma Vista
Record Label: Netwerk Records
Sounds Like: Library Voices (NMT), Weezer (NMT), The Arcade Fire (NMT), Vampire Weekend, Duran Duran

The 11-track offering is a significant step forward in consistency and power from their folksy 2010 debut, Songbook, which featured sunny Beach Boys-inspired harmonies paired with folk simplicity, but ranged from exceedingly playful to heartwrechingly dour in just a few tracks. Still, it was a solid start, and the group expanded their direction and focus here. They smartly ascribe to the 3:2:1 ratio of upbeat (3) to mid-paced (2) to ballad (1) selections that I believe contributes to the most enjoyable albums.

Opening track "The Stairs" comes close to a Neko Case – Dan Bejar New Pornographers' (NMT) duet, with frontman and guitarist Joe Keefe and keyboardist Christina Schroeter matching vocals with ease and comfort as the number builds in intensity with synthy guitars from Keefe and Jamesy Buckley channeling The Edge on top of the steady rhythm of Keefe's brother Sebastian and bassist Alex Walker.

The following "Diversity" is among the record's catchiest, with its looping chorus hook setting the stage early before breaking free into the type indie-pop power blast that's made careers for bands ranging from Duran Duran to Weezer to the New Pornographers and Library Voices. It's on tracks like these where Schroeter's keyboards make the difference between sludgy alt-rock instrumentals and more lighthearted fare. The same is true later on with "Living On Love," which adds even more punch and group dynamic to the mix.

"St. Croix" is sufficiently breezy and tropical, befitting its title, with Joe Keefe's acoustic guitars livening the beachy vibe, although the chorus lyrics are just a tad hokey. Still, it easily earns on a spot on a beach vacation playlist along with any pick from the Tennis (NMT) catalog and Weezer's "Island in the Sun." The countrified "Buried" is similar unburdened by heft and importance, and would pair brilliantly with the group's own "Let's Go Down" off Songbook, a classic kick-off-to-the-weekend anthem.

Lead single "Hero" is the collection's most restrained effort, with Keefe and his acoustic sitting center stage ahead of gentle accompianment from the larger band. With each chorus, though, the vocal harmonies grow more prevalent and round the number into a soothing example of contemporary folk rock. "Everytime" continues the record's gentle mid-section and might be the least interesting cut here and would have fit better on a Keefe solo project, but it's worth a listen nonetheless.

"Hey Ma" is power piano ballad that Fountains of Wayne (NMT) could have included as a late-appearing track on Welcome Interstate Managers. At first blush, it sounds more sentimental than it actually is, and the second-half crunch and Buckley's encore-lighter solo reinforces its power ballad status. Meanwhile, the late-appearing "In the End" (hooky, Sloan-flavored) and "Never Enough" (Americana, heartland rock) are far from filler and are the type of solid, if unspectacular material that constitute thorough records. And "Find It" is the archetypal closing track, a stress-free, send-off lullaby with subtle instrumentation and unforced harmonies.

Come for: "Hero"
Stay for: "Diversity"
You'll be surprised by: "St. Croix"
Solid efforts: "The Stairs," "Buried," "Living on Love," "Hey Ma," "In the End," "Never Enough," "Find It"
Meh: "Everytime"
Skip to next track: everything should be given as least one listen

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