[4 December 2012]
PopMatters Assistant Editor
For one moment, Revival, the third studio release by Brooklyn duo Callers, gets it just right. Second track “Heroes” is not only the best thing on the album. It’s also one of the best pop songs of 2012, one that’ll sadly be overlooked. Over a spare guitar line and minimalist drumbeat, vocalist Sara Lucas sings with an incredible beauty and power. It helps that the music is as infectious as anything that’s on the radio now. Lucas’ voice is a thing of incredible skill, but what’s striking about in terms of her role in Callers is how out-of-place it can often sound. A reasonable point of comparison for “Heroes” is the xx: the echo-y guitar tone is a decent match, and the simplicity of the drum beat, while not as processed as the stuff of the spacey Brits, has the same inimitable quality of getting stuck in one’s head. The obvious point of divergence between Callers and the xx, however, is the vocal quality of each group. Whereas the boy/girl dynamic of the xx are ethereal and wispy, Callers so often use dynamic vocal performances atop subdued musical arrangements. The latter is what I imagine it would be like to see Florence Welch perform in a tiny club instead of a huge stadium; the effect would be the musical equivalent of suffocation.
This sonic imbalance is what ends up being the undoing of Reviver. While Ryan Seaton, the other half of the duo, does pretty well at blending in with the downbeat indie that takes up the majority of this record, whenever Lucas steps up to the mic, she overtakes everything else going on. This isn’t to say the music is bad—certain parts are quite good, especially the warm guitar tone of “Crush Times”—but rather that it’s misplaced. Lucas’ vocals have been the most consistent talking point in most any review one will find of the band’s previous work, and with good reason. For all of the major and minor successes scattered across Reviver, she is the one constant, the thing that keeps you coming back to an otherwise inoffensive brand of indie rock. Callers do get have something of an edge for this reason, but as long as the music that backs Lucas’ vocals is merely serviceable, Callers as a duo will continue to be held back by arrangements that restrain their full potential.
Still, it isn’t as if Lucas’ voice is always overpowering; some songs on Reviver—“Heroes” especially—are quite good, and for a moment they give the impression that it’s possible for a voice like Lucas’ to be juxtaposed alongside Seaton’s mellow guitar successfully. The tricky rhythmic interplay of “Howard 2 Hands” is one such moment, a nice closer for the album. What’s left for Callers is to reconcile these frequently opposing forces. Lucas is an asset way too good to waste, and for now she’s the key force in keeping Callers afloat. Reconciling her voice and the music that accompanies it isn’t merely for her own sake, though. Seaton is frequently left to serve as background noise, which is equally bad for the entire group. Callers may be a duo, but for now the thing they need is to make the two parts that comprise that duo into a singular, cohesive sonic, one that utilizes each one of its parts to maximum effect.