What expectations does a band named Babehoven carry with it regarding sound? A silly play on the name of one of the most famous composers of all time had me thinking of a female-fronted, somewhat bombastic, at least partially satirical throwback rock act. “Sensitive indie folk-pop” would have been quite a ways down on my list of guesses. However, that’s what Babehoven, singer-songwriter Maya Bon and producer and musical collaborator Ryan Albert, create for their debut album, Light Moving Time.
Intently strummed acoustic guitar opens the album and first track, “Break the Ice”. Bon lets the simple opening chords sit for a while, strumming and cooing nearly wordlessly along. After over a minute, she sings, “I loved you like a house minder / A house fire / I wanted nothing but to break the ice / I wanted nothing but to break the ice.” At this point, a full band enters, with gently rolling drums, slightly reverbed electric guitar, a simple bassline, and what sounds like simple pedal steel guitar quietly in the background.
From here, the song drifts frustratingly close to a coherent narrative, but Bon keeps making lyrical swerves. At one point, she sings, “You got sick sick sick sick sick sick / I lost everything I loved / Close to you / Close to you I lost it all.” Whenever she repeats a word like this, the drums up their intensity to match Bon, and it’s quite effective. The song ends, though, with the words, “I want to be respectful / Of your process / Your process / You are standing in the Great Divide.” Whatever narrative had been built is rendered abstract again. The song closes out with stabs of long, echoing electric guitar notes that function like an outro solo but end up as more of a sound effect.
This sort of musical and lyrical ambiguity drives much of Light Moving Time. Listeners get the sense that Bon knows what she’s singing about, but there often isn’t enough specificity for it to make a story. Musically the songs have real emotion behind them and are never less than pleasant, but they often lack the kind of hooks that make them memorable.
“I’m on Your Team” is an excellent example of this. Ostensibly this is a relationship song where Bon is assuring a partner that she supports them. The song ends with 45 seconds of Bon singing, “I’m on your team.” Before this, though, the lyrics are filled with vague platitudes like, “Someone’s going to listen / Give back what you have given / In the cold, you will have a warm home.” So it’s left to the music to provide the emotional heft, and the low, simple (possibly baritone) guitar riff does good work on this end. Bon’s aching, stretched-out vocal delivery also goes a long way to make the track interesting. Ultimately, the track does work, but only because the music carries the day.
Sometimes even simple tricks enhance a song. Closer “Often” is mostly just bass, acoustic, guitar, and Bon’s voice. Here and there, though, there’s a subtle layer of vocal harmony added to give more body to the singing. The song also adds a shaker at one point and puts in a simple piano accompaniment on the final minute. These small touches make “Often” seem a little more lively and upbeat.
Since Bon’s songs are almost uniformly slow to mid-tempo, Albert does some solid production work to change the feel from track to track. “Do It Fast” features a swirling, synth-like hook that pulses throughout the song, and Bon’s voice occasionally seems to fall through a distortion field itself. The short, simple “Circles” is essentially just Bon and a guitar, but Albert gives it an odd echo that makes the track sound like it’s coming not just from a tunnel but also from around a corner inside that tunnel.
There are also a handful of tracks where Bon and Albert turn up the volume. “Marion” chugs along at a mild clip, but with layers of acoustic and electric guitars and even some banjo, fiddle, and flute, it’s a full-bodied arrangement. “Stand It” has drums with some real energy as well as buzzing hollow-body electric guitar chords. “Pockets”, with guitars that shift between big reverb and chunky distorted, could easily pass for a ’90s alt-rock power ballad.
Bon is a strong vocalist with a good sense of melody, and it’s the vocal melodies that keep Light Moving Time engaging. Babehoven’s arrangements and production ideas are also strong enough to enhance some of these tracks. As a total package, though, Light Moving Time is good but not great. It seems like Bon and Albert have a penchant for idiosyncratic, non-traditional songwriting, but sometimes songs have verses and choruses for a reason. These non-traditional songs would work better with some catchier bits. So I applaud their idiosyncrasies while also hoping for bigger hooks next time around.