It's a sign of immense talent when a band can change sounds dramatically and still improve on previous efforts. San Francisco quintet Call and Response's 2001 self-titled debut featured simple-sounding bubblegum pop with some serious complexity in hypnotic, enchanting vocal harmonies, playful pop sensibilities. and brilliant interplay between instruments and vocals. Songs like "Blowing Bubbles" and "California Floating in Space" were mesmerizing but hardly challenging. Instead, it was great summertime fun music, suitable for roller-skating and star-gazing, coincidentally both topics the band sings about on Call and Response.
If asked to predict where the band's music would progress for its next release, your reasonable critic would expect more of the same, with perhaps a little less fluff and more lyrical depth. But the formula Call and Response employed on its debut was so flawless there seemed little need to substantially improve upon it.
With its second album, Winds Take No Shape, the band has started down a more mature-sounding path. It is a masterful effort, taking the most memorable elements of their past work and alchemically changing it to something completely new but no less great for the difference. The band has toned down the twee and popped most of the bubblegum aesthetics. Instead, Winds Take No Shape toys with darker emotions and subtler music, but is no less captivating for the lack of light.
The album opens with "Colors Bleed", and between the snap of the drums and the general tone and delivery of singer Carrie Clough's classically trained voice, it sounds like it could be a song from fellow San Francisco resident Bebel Gilberto. There's a lot more groove in Call and Response's pop this time around.
Gone are the multiple vocal parts, with three or four band members singing counterpoint harmonies. Gone are the vocals of guitarist Daniel Judd, who added an untrained, indie-sounding vibe to the first album. Replacing these elements is a more subdued sound that relies on subterranean harmonies between Clough and Simone Rubi. Don't think for a second that the lack of multi-part harmonies on Winds Take No Shape makes the album less engaging. Instead, each song offers up tiny surprises and delights to dogpile your senses.
After listening to the album all the way through several times, Dan Judd's guitar finally leapt out at me on "Colors Bleed." His muted, clear strumming perfectly echoes drummer Jordan Dalrymple's expressive, jazzy style. Dalrymple's snare- and cymbal-heavy drum work vastly expands the depth of each track, enhancing Clough's voice and giving strong support to Terri Loewenthal's smooth and gorgeous bass.
Call and Response has always drawn from myriad influences. Their first release drew equally from soul, funk, psychedelic rock and a host of other sounds, but Winds Take No Shape has added new colors to the palette, notably with the bossa nova elements of "Colors Bleed". The band also gives a nod to its past with "Landscapes", about the closest to bubblegum on the album, and the back-to-back semi-instrumental tracks "Station" and "Before the Dream", which showcase Judd's guitar and Rubi's buzzing, '70s funk synth.
On its debut, the band sang about popping bubbles, roller skating, and rainbows. Although adept at painting pictures with words and sound, the band doesn't really tell stories in the songs. Conveying a general appreciation of kites is sufficient subject for a Call and Response song. With Winds Take No Shape, the abstract nature of the lyrics remain, but they've taken a more disturbing tone. Clough sings about being trapped under ice and shadows moving in the dark, and prisons, ropes, razors, and earthquakes all make appearances on this album.
Although their overall sound has expanded and matured, the beauty of Call and Response's music is its ethereality. It drifts through your consciousness like a foggy San Francisco morning, revealing amazing views and depths as time passes.