[18 June 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Though Understories is the debut album from the Hollyhocks, the band has quite a pedigree. Guitarist Dan Jewett co-wrote the Counting Crows’ hit “Round Here” with Adam Duritz, and singer Kristen Sobditch spent a long time touring with American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel. That the band sounds polished on this, their first record, is no surprise. The guitars have a professional shine to them on the languid sway of “Lightning and Timing” or the moodier tones of lead single “Sugar”. Sobditch’s vocals are sweet and keening throughout, and the band’s understated shuffle smartly makes room for that voice, while Jewett’s guitar work echoes the sweetness of her voice nicely. It’s telling, though, that the best song here is a cover of Def Leppard’s “Photograph”. This earnest take on the song is lilting and glides on strings arranged by Magik*Magik Orchestra’s Minna Choi, and it shows an inventive side to the band. The rest of the album sounds nice, but songs don’t distinguish themselves. The whole album slides by at mid-tempo and, though the shimmering layers are nice they become a too-shiny patina that keeps the listener from digging into these songs. Understories sounds nice, but—oddly enough—it’s hard to dig into the stories under the band’s sound.