One can’t quite help but play the old, inevitable “name that musical influence” game when listening to Seattle duo Lemolo’s self-released debut Kaleidoscope. Lemolo’s slow, mournful, driving sound brings to mind names like Codeine, Low, and Red House Painters. These are pretty standard reference points in this day and age and rightfully so; I myself am very fond of these sometimes-called “slowcore” bands of the early 1990s. But Lemolo do not stop with these fairly mopy citations; the heavily distorted, burning, crunching guitar line that makes itself known on opening track “Knives” brings to mind names like Earth, The Dirty Three, and even Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack. Now, if you were reading this description without having heard Lemolo’s music, you might get the impression that these two young women are making some very morose, grim, and punishing music, but such an assumption would miss the gorgeous melodies, vocal harmonies, and general prettiness that make up the backbone of Lemolo’s sound. These quieter, softer moments evoke names like Regina Spektor and Tori Amos; however, the more stripped down, melodic, tracks often give the impression that Kaleidoscope is the first step towards something greater that will manifest further down the road. You occasionally get the sense that you are listening to a burgeoning songwriter ensconced in her bedroom pounding away on her keyboard, still figuring out her strengths and weaknesses.
Lemolo really start raising the old goose-bumps when they sound less like a singer/songwriter project, and more like a band. The above-mentioned “Knives” is an excellent example of this; a simple keyboard line and Meagan Grandhall’s emotional, compelling vocals soon give way to a towering, reverb-laden guitar part and Kendra Cox’s pounding, echoing percussion. The track rolls and booms, intensifying as the duo harmonize and add textures to their sound. Somewhere around the three-minute mark, “Knives” lurches into full gear, increasing its tempo and turning both the guitar line and the percussion loose. Here Lemolo really allow themselves to rock, and rock they do. “Knives” sets an early precedent for what Lemolo do best, which includes guitar, percussion, and keyboard lines. Some of the more scaled-back tracks that follow feel a bit hollow in comparison: always pretty, but often missing the emotion punch of the fully fleshed-out “Knives”.
Although Kaleidoscope’s opening track starts the album very effectively, seventh track “On Again, Off Again” is clearly the highpoint of the record. As on “Knives”, Lemolo build their momentum slowly, but relentlessly. Percussion reverberates around a hazy, shoegaze-y guitar part, while Grandhall and Cox moan the refrain, “It’s so on again…and…off again…”, as the track continues to gain strength. Lemolo’s lyrics for “On Again, Off Again” find that difficult balance between empowerment, and despair; self-affirmation and misery. The track roils to a dramatic mid-song climax before slowly cycling back down again and fading out. Again, one is reminded of some of Codeine’s finest moments, songs that are at once heartbreaking and triumphant. “On Again, Off Again” illustrates that Lemolo have not just crafted a dynamic sound from desperate influences; they are in the process of becoming gifted songwriters.
Lemolo are not quite there yet with Kaleidoscope. The contrast between the fully-realized songs and the pleasant, but somewhat forgettable interludes is often great. I can attest, however, that Lemolo can be devastating live. In spite of their restrictions as a duo, Lemolo are able to pull off their more powerful songs amazingly well in a live setting. Nonetheless, I am unable to suppress a nagging desire for Lemolo to add a lead guitar player or full-time keyboardist to their lineup; such an addition would play to their strengths and help augment their sound. Kaleidoscope is an indication of big things to come. Once Lemolo have been signed to a good label and written some more songs on the scale of “Knives” and “On Again, Off Again”, we will all be in store for something very special.