Hollow Everdaze’s debut album takes equal parts inspiration from late ‘60s psychedelic pop and ‘90s shoegaze. And they sparingly throw in other stylistic touches, including strings and synthesizers, to their basic guitar rock template. On paper, this sounds like a strong formula. In practice, Cartoons sounds more like an album’s worth of decent filler tracks without any of the singles or highlights that make listeners sit up and pay attention.
What is it that makes the album so middling? Mostly it’s the lack of hooks. There are very few memorable bits here. The guitars are fine stylistically but lack strong riffs. The vocals are slightly below average but not so rough that singer Dan Baulch can’t carry a tune. The band has a psychedelic bent, and they clearly want to create texture and atmosphere, but even that aspect is only so-so. This is all on display on “Cartoons”, the record’s opening track. A feedback-laden, shoegazey guitar riff dominates the intro, accompanied by a short keyboard figure. Baulch comes in with moody, subdued singing and is backed up by a violin. The song even goes to a march-style bridge in its middle. It’s not a barnburner of a beginning, but it works quite well to establish the band’s sound and seems to set the stage for more interesting material to come.
But that isn’t what happens. Second song “Poisoned by Nostalgia” takes inspiration from the ‘60s and does it pretty effectively. The bendy guitars and full strings are spot on, but Baulch’s vocals are buried in the mix and lack anything resembling a catchy melody. Because the vocals are buried, the lyrics are difficult to make out. On top of that, the lack of vocal melody forces the ‘60s musical pastiche to support the whole song on its own. It’s a good pastiche, but not that good.
This turns out to be a pattern throughout the album. The band consistently tries to let its skill at stylistic imitation speak for itself without adding much of anything fresh. “Running Away” illustrates this well. It’s a ballad laden with syrupy strings, prominent Motown-style bass, and a romantic, soulful vocal performance. The band throws in some minor synth sounds, but mostly it’s just a spot-on ‘70s soft-rock ballad. “Catastrophe” uses hollow body electric guitars, both clean and distorted, to give the song a signature ‘60s sound. But beyond that distinctive texture there isn’t much to grab on to. Baulch’s vocals aren’t that interesting, and those guitars don’t do much.
Near the end of the album, the band finally comes up with a couple of catchy songs. “Same Old Story” is an acoustic guitar and string-based ballad with a good vocal melody. It also effectively employs vibraphone and flute to expand the song texturally. “Warcry” is the record’s best song. It’s another ‘60s pastiche, this time of orchestral pop. But the song has a bounce to it, exemplified by Jackson Kay’s bass. The vocals fit in nicely with the orchestration, and while this isn’t exactly the big sing-along the rest of the music calls for, at least it doesn’t feel like Baulch is letting down the band.
But a pair of above average songs are not enough to pull Cartoons out of its haze of mediocrity. There just isn’t much on the album to get excited about. I’ll give the caveat that this is a debut and the band is solid in terms of playing skill, so it’s entirely possible that Hollow Everdaze will develop more of their own identity if they stay together longer. But for right now, what they have are mostly uninspired takes on styles that rock and guitar pop fans have been hearing for decades.
// Notes from the Road
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