You can call Bodies of Water’s sound a lot of things, but you can’t call it small. The nine players credited on A Certain Feeling—that is, their core four-piece plus five helping hands—can make a sound too big for any room you could put your stereo in. This is outside music, music to be set on a porch and blasted into the expanse of land around it, music that cannot be contained.
The sound is so big, the compositions so full to bursting with fresh sounds, that often the very nature of the songs create their own fundamental tension. “Under the Pines”, one of many tracks on the album that clocks in at around six minutes, starts with a lone organ, crashed upon by tumbling prog crunches of guitar and cymbal. But from there, rather than rising up and up from the get-go, the song settles, letting the guitar lead it through a humbler, more psychedelic pop noise.
But even the psychedelia can’t be left alone. Its simplicity is derided beautifully by the choir of voices that come into the song to pull it out of the murk, letting the guitar fall away, as the singers push the song to something bigger, something too big for even Phil Spector to imagine. In the same way, “Water Here” starts as a quiet number, where you can picture the choir standing still on a stage, chins raised, singing to a black tie crowd. But then the horns come in and the drums pick up and the guitar adopts a funky upstroke. Before you know it, the super-serious dirge has broken out into a pure dance number.
“Darling, Be Here” is the most rock-based of all the songs, with a heavy, Iommi-inspired riff to start it off. And, yet again, just when you’ve think it’s settled, it swings back to the off-kilter psychedelics, and the shape-note vocals come, voices rising and falling together in quick swells. The vocals hit a high point on the record here, as David Metcalf and Meredith Arthur lead the group up a mountain to shout a joyful noise from the top. It is, along with opener “Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey”, the most chilling and exhilarating performance on the record.
And while clearly A Certain Feeling continues the playful size of their debut, Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink, it is the moments of restraint on the record that make it work as a whole. Arthur’s lovelorn solo vocals on the pining “Only You” are a spacey, stark contrast the dense compositions around it. And the closer, “The Mud Gapes Open”, is just two minutes of piano balladry, where the group is singing once again, but they are all hushed. “The mud gapes open, we’re not that worthy”, they sing together, making the album seem like a humble offering to something larger. On an album of big drums and full voices, of arena-sized riffs and huge-hearted lyrics, it is a striking moment of quiet, and a brilliant ending to a great album. For all its grandiosity and bellowing, the affect of A Certain Feeling is quite subtle. But it’s there, buzzing in the silence after the album is ended, keeping you from moving from that spot on the porch until, after taking in all that stillness, you approach the stereo and play the album again.