On their latest, San Francisco-based retro act the Sandwitches slow the tempos way down, in the process losing the charm that held their earlier efforts together.
The Sandwitches represent the female end of the San Francisco pop revivalist spectrum, trafficking in quaint, often lo-fi pop at home in the mid-'60s. That they manage to do so in the 21st century is a testament to the Bay Area music scene's fascination with and ability to mine its rich musical past for inspiration. Along with a host of other like-minded acts exploring the dustier corners of pop's past on labels like Empty Cellar and Castle Face, the Sandwitches seek to approximate an aural aesthetic within a contemporary framework.
Where before they explored a more ramshackle, throwback style of pop primitivism, recent releases have seen the group moving at a slower, more measured pace, favoring ballads and the melancholy over sugary garage pop. On Our Toast, they continue to slow things down, almost to the point of stopping altogether (see the trailing, somnambulant phrases of "Sleeping Practice"). It's a far sleepier and often darker sound that makes Our Toast a bit of a slog to get through at times.
Much of the album plays like a slightly improvisatory, protracted exhalation; an extended, resigned sigh that feels compelled to go on despite a complete and total lack of motivation. Not quite the sound of depression, but something close, bordering on the edges of the abyss. Forgoing more tightly constructed pop songs, the nine tracks here tend to stretch well beyond the five minute mark, lazily moving forward as if in a daze brought on by the heat of a summer's afternoon, possessing a lethargy that comes to a head in the epic, sleep-inducing slowcore of "Dead Prudence".
With an ebb and flow like that of gently lapping surf, the eight-minute epic hints at the Beatles-esque only in the title, the song itself playing out like a Beach Boys ballad spun at half-speed. While their voices blend nicely at times, the at times aimless nature of the song itself does not do the band any justice. Having done little to hide the often amateurish nature of their musicality, their ambitions here tend to outweigh their talents.
That said, despite its impossibly slow tempo, "Island Jam" perhaps proves their most effective attempt at a type of autumnal slowcore that retains the warmth of the summer's sun and only hints of the melancholy forthcoming with fall and winter. Additionally, "Island Jam" is one of the few tracks here to utilize something beyond the guitar/bass/drums template, incorporating flute and piano on the song's somewhat surprisingly upbeat outro.
As if enlivened by "Island Jam"'s conclusion, "Personal Hell" remains somewhat upbeat, employing a minor key melody and ever-so-slightly propulsive percussive interplay between the bass and drums that helps push the tempo just enough beyond that of the preceding to help break up the monotony. Similarly, "Wickerman Mambo" employs a countryish shuffle that helps keep the song moving just enough forward to stave off boredom. Coming as late as they do, however, these attempts become little more than a case of too little too late.
Ultimately, Our Toast is a bit too lethargic and lacking any sort of memorable hooks to remain anything more than the sound of a pleasant, sun-drenched afternoon spent watching the waves lazily crashing into the shore. Having fallen asleep at some point during the afternoon, you wake with the fleeting notion of having enjoyed a pleasant afternoon. But, having been zapped of any and all energy, it proves to have little lasting impact, becoming nothing more than a rapidly fading memory.