Portland’s What Hearts is the brainchild of one Julie Vitells, a singer-songwriter who wrote the 10 songs that appear on her band’s first full-length album, which is self-titled, in a converted schoolbus named Marjorie. It turns out that it must be a magic schoolbus (like the kids’ cartoon show), because the songs that appear on What Hearts are stunning and beautiful. They shimmer and shine, a kind of marriage between the Velvet Underground and the jangle rock of the Byrds. In fact, What Hearts kind of feel like an all-female version of Real Estate in their very retro-like rendering of indie pop, just with a few country-like scratchy violins thrown in for good measure. Combining elements of tall tales, murder ballads, Jewish folk songs and more, What Hearts is simply a sterling album from start to finish. Close scrutiny to the lyrics yields a certain stream-of-consciousness style that sometimes comes off as silly – I’m still not sure what “Dear Brother” is about, though the watery guitar hook sure is catchy as heck. Elsewhere, “Roll Back” offers the baffling opening lines, “It’s only a brick / It’s only a stone / If you get sick / Then you’re on your own”. So, yeah, there’s a fair bit of gibberish on the record, but it’s still oddly appealing to listen to and only heightens the sense of mystery about the group.
The band ultimately might be a bit obscure – there’s not a heck of a lot about this group out there aside from an official Web site – but are worthy of being heard. By the end of What Hearts, I was ready to listen to it all over again – which is the highest commendation I can think of giving the disc. This is a band that’s probably not going to change the world anytime soon, but they have an enjoyably consistent and robust sound that defies easy categorization, and seem to have an honest sincerity to their sound, despite the kind of outré lyrics. What Hearts is an interesting and appealing statement, and worthy of searching out for in the wilds of Oregon just to hear. Unless, of course, that schoolbus travels ... .