Music

The Babies: The Babies

Members of Woods and Vivian Girls craft some pretty solid -- and varied -- rock songs. Unfortunately, there's not much consistency to be found.


The Babies

The Babies

US Release: 2011-02-15
Label: Shrimper
UK Release: Import
Amazon
Label website
Amazon
iTunes

Kevin Morby plays bass for the gauze-folk act Woods, while Cassie Ramone heads up the sometimes dreamy, sometimes sleepy rock band Vivian Girls. Now, though, they're together as the Babies, both singing and writing songs, and something has changed. They both seem to have gotten a shot in the arm on their eponymous debut. Well, at least some of the time, that's how it sounds.

On paper they're a good match. Morby brings the echo and intricate, distinct layers of Woods to the mix, while Ramone brings an immediate rock heft. What becomes clear is that with Morby cleaning up the specific elements -- you can hear the different guitar lines, you can feel the layers building, instead of the way they can start piling up on, say, the first Vivian Girls record -- he and Ramone can craft some pretty solid rock songs, complete with striking melodies and great vocal harmonies.

The two work best when they sing together. "Meet Me in the City" is a garage-rock barn-burner, both a fitting tribute to the late Jay Reatard and a reminder of how much his unbridled energy is missed. The quick blast of "Personality" works the same magic in half the time, and "Run Me Over" tones down the breakneck speed just a hair, but makes up for it when the song bottoms out on the chorus, letting Ramone's vocals -- in a rare moment of subtle emotion -- echo out into space.

Ramone, often detached as a singer, finds a good foil in Morby. When they sing together, as on those standouts mentioned above, Morby's voice is more prominent, but Ramone is the bracing shadow. Those moments find her at her most emotive, her voice rising and falling not with a considered nonchalance, but with a quiet intensity. When they quiet things down, taking more of a buzzing folk approach, her voice can work there too. "All Things Come to Pass" is sing-songy, to be sure, but Ramone's basic delivery feels more playful here than dull.

Unfortunately, there's not much consistency to the record. Even Morby, who in his best moments proves an engaging and surprisingly versatile singer, falls into too-basic ruts. "Sick Kid" has sweetly layered guitars, but Morby and Ramone deliver the song in a robotic bleat. "Breakin the Law" also wastes a dusty, Crazy-Horse-like lead with its general sluggishness. In the wake of speedy power-pop songs, this one falls flat as Morby and Ramone trade fatigued lines. It rarely works, in fact, when they split these songs into duets. "Voice Like Thunder" is an interesting shift in tone, a step out of the garage and into some desert in the Southwest, but Ramone spends the first half of the song yawning out her lines, and Morby's careful delivery on the back half can't help the song recover.

What's so curious about this band and the lo-fi Brooklyn scene in general is how little its practitioners seem to care, even as they constantly form new bands and cross-pollinate into sort-of-new sounds. Some acts -- and Woods is a shining example of this -- rise above the fray and offer a challenge to the others, letting us know that there can be ambition, there can be feeling in these humble recordings. For the most part, though, each new project becomes part of a collective pat on the back, some self-congratulations for crafting an aesthetic that has, in its modest way, caught on.

The good news is that, at times, the Babies break from this trend. Ramone and Morby challenge each other's approaches to songwriting and performing, and the results are electric and lasting. In other places, perhaps too many, they indulge established habits. While those moments don't always fail, they certainly don't give us anything new.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image