Melochrome really lives up to the “mellow” in its name on Stay a Little Longer. The sophomore effort from the Chicago dream-pop unit is a musical fuzzy blanket, enveloping the listener in layers of soft, warm sound. It’s an exercise in mood: calm, tranquil, and soothing. With its liberal use of sweet male-female harmonies, lilting acoustic guitars, weepy strings, and droning keyboards, it’s not for everybody, but it sure won’t offend anyone, either.
Although it’s focused more on mood than memorable hooks, Stay does offer a number of highlights. “Holly” sounds like one of R.E.M.‘s off-kilter ballads (think “Time After Time” or “Camera”), although Melochrome would more likely enjoy comparisons to Nick Drake. “Let’s Work It Out”, while atypical of the album as a whole, is a pure throwback to AM radio, with tambourines, gentle androgynous harmonies, handclaps, and sweetie-pie keyboards. The only discernible modern touch in the song is some fuzzy, lo-fi guitar that enters during the chorus, but is pushed to the back of the mix. Another nice touch is the horns that float into “Seasonlong” quite unexpectedly, as the song starts out in an acoustic folk vein.
Unfortunately, most of the album’s songs are nearly interchangeable. Pramod Tummala sings quietly and with immeasurable melancholy; acoustic guitars strum sadly; strings weave their way in and out; someone tinkles upon a piano’s keys—you get the picture. The biggest drawback to Melochrome’s sound, though, is bassist Darlene Poole’s simpering, girlish voice. As hard to fathom as it is, Juliana Hatfield’s vocals would sound gritty and world-worn in comparison. It’s especially hard to take lyrics like “And I know all the books you’ve read / And they’re not making you smarter” seriously when they sound like they’re coming from a five-year-old.
That’s not to say that Melochrome doesn’t offer up something perfectly pleasant with Stay a Little Longer, but it’s not much more than aural candy. Like a gentle breeze on a warm August night or a mouthful of cotton candy, the album is sweet and pleasing, but doesn’t leave much of substance once it’s gone.
// Notes from the Road
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