Despite the effusive title Love Love Love, the Graves songwriter Greg Olin is apparently reluctant to give too much away. He sings in a hushed tone throughout his band's debut CD as though he's about to share a secret, but he never does. On "Dark Hair Is Cool Too" he sings "I'm gonna keep myself a secret / I'm quiet, so I won't leak it out". Instead, we get suggestive, evocative near-intimacies that keep us engaged while keeping us at a distance.
It's a brilliant ploy; Olin's a clever songwriter who seems to know that too much cleverness just comes off as smarmy, so he tempers it with semi-confidences and wry, self-deprecating humour. His lyrics, while not as laden with pop culture references, are often as quirkily impenetrable as Stephen Malkmus's, but without the former Pavement frontman's occasionally overbearing sense of self-satisfaction.
The Graves's songs come across much the same way. It's not too often that I fall back on the gushing press releases that accompany review CD's for some assistance, but this time, the publicist really hit the mark when referring to the band's style as "campfire baroque". Every track is bursting with ideas, but the execution is so relaxed that rather than sounding ambitious, the songs sound amiably ramshackle. Often, they collapse into each other, as one track picks up from the lazy last strands of the other. It's only on repeat listens that Love Love Love's carefully layered textures and strong performances reveal themselves.
Throughout the record, the production is artful. "The (209)", the album's opening track, is a gentle, melodic tune with warm, strummed verses that grow into a truly lovely chorus. A horn arrangement is so recessed in the mix that it seems to come from another room, providing subtle shadings, while keyboards offer the song a delicate twinkle. Later, the short instrumental "Kylodica" recalls Brian Wilson's fragments from Smile, with its jaunty sleigh bells, simple melody, and strange atmospheric backdrop. "Suburban Girls" makes great use of an ancient organ's waltz setting, blooming from a scratchy monaural sound to full stereo and back again.
On "O'Connor Pass", Olin's strong pop sensibilities truly shine. The song is a great shuffle, with a melodic bassline and warm harmonies, somewhat reminiscent of Sloan circa One Chord to Another. The song's strange bursts of energy, however, ensure that the sound remains exclusively the Graves's. It's impressive that a new band possesses such a confident unique sound; only one track on Love Love Love seems as though it could came directly from another group's songbook. With its tinny toy piano and monotone vocals, "How to Fake an Indian Summer" could be a Magnetic Fields song, but there are worse sins than evoking Stephen Merritt.
Other album highlights are the tracks "Curse a Thing" and "Evil is You", both of which are surprisingly affecting. Dolefully sung with haunting harmonies and a Chet Baker-esque trumpet line, "Curse a Thing" is exceptionally bittersweet. "Evil is You", the record's other instrumental, demonstrates that an indie band from Oregon can play genuine, heartfelt soul music.
Sometimes, the Graves's sonic experimentation means the band indulges in a little too much guitar feedback, but these harsh moments are more than tempered by the rest of the record's warmth. Love Love Love welcomes listeners in, and while Greg Olin may not take us into his confidence, I'm glad he let us hear his whispers.