Stabs is too conservative a psychedelic album to stand out but provides some easy fun while it lasts.
Despite the name of the album and the tenor of the opening, eponymous track – a cacophony, all squealing feedback and screeching trumpets and barking dogs – Stabs plays less like a knife in the ear than a soak in a warm bath. It's a pleasant and warm experience, an easier entry in the psychedelic revival that predictably favors a sound supersaturated with fuzzy distortion, sunny guitars and gently kicking drums that make sure even the most up-tempo songs never passes along at more than an easy roll. If the instruments occasionally swirl into a kind of sonic stew they all remain just pronounced enough that no song is too long without shape and texture. There's never another moment quite so violent as the opener.
After awhile you might begin to wish there was. Fun as it is, Stabs is an album in desperate need of texture and of character. The vocals of Hannes Ferm (who also wrote every song and plays guitar on every track) are too mushy, the drums too hollow, the guitars so understated that even the most elaborate solos are without real character and so each song ends up sounding much the same as the previous and the next. Even when the tempo kicks up or drops down, even when Ferm switches from his drawl on "Demon's Hand" to his yelps on "Get By", even when the songs get abrasive and trade in their typical lolling texture for the lock-step march and shreds of "Rooftops" the songs remain so much the same. There's such a gentle, unchanging air about it all – the warm, soft sounds are so easy to soak in – that even a close listener is liable to fall asleep while listening. And just as liable to wake up as it comes to a close, feeling much like they haven't missed anything of great importance, only aware that they're suddenly feeling cold and wrinkly and a little bit embarrassed.
Restraint, so rare in psychedelic rock and especially in the recent psychedelic revival and so noticeable here, is certainly welcome but shouldn't be substituted so readily for deliberation as it is here. The reason somebody like Ty Segall, the forefront of this movement, is so beloved is because he knows how to do manage the most dangerous aspects of noise – its tendency to overpower every other element of a song, the way it's often so lazily used as a shorthand for untrammeled passion and boundless energy. In those instances where he bows out and allows chaos to play as it will there at least remains a matchless passion. Hookworms have earned their critical attention despite occasionally botched pacing because they understand how to invest even the worst of their songs with distinct identities that command attention. HOLY, though more fun than either of these two acts, and more careful, is simply so clean and measured and careful that they end up so much more boring for it. Maybe they felt as comfortable making this music as they hoped their listeners would feel listening to it, in which case somebody better go check the bath: Ferm and his entourage may be going wrinkled about now. It wouldn't do to have them drowning. Not when there's good work to be done.