This third album from the Brooklyn based duo of Ryan Seaton and Sara Lucas met widespread acclaim on its release in the USA last year, but has only now landed in the UK. This is likely to be UK listeners’ first experience of the duo’s meticulously arranged, coruscating guitar rock.
Responses to the band so far seem to have emphasised their art rock credentials, and the syncopated rhythms, unpredictable structures and occasional odd dissonances of songs such as Good Years and Crush Times (both come with taut and fraught grooves coincidentally reminiscent of The Invisible) to some extent support this pigeonholing. In some ways, however, this might serve only to limit the band’s audience unnecessarily. There are plenty of moments on Reviver that hint at a broader crossover potential. For all its archness and sophistication, the music here has a very clean, mainstream sound too.
The title track bristles with vitality and brilliantly showcases Sara Lucas’ flighty, uninhibited vocals. Similarly, the quasi-disco backbeat and handclaps that drive Heroes, when coupled with its flagrant, highly infectious melody, create something instant and irresistible. These tracks have a similar verve to that of Rilo Kiley circa Under The Blacklight, a sophisticated sheen that conceals greater depths and a strong pop classicism.
Anyone acquainted with Callers’ spare and raw debut Fortune might find these high end production values somewhat surprising. Lucas’ vocal delivery is remarkably assured, characterful but also rich in rock and pop history, at times recalling the projection and range of Grace Slick. What is most impressive about Callers’ unusual evolution is how equally at home Seaton and Lucas seem in this hyper detailed studio world as they did on the more unvarnished and intimate environment of their beginnings.
Yet not even these two bursts of pop ever entirely dispense with weirdness. There are still unexpected twists and turns in the harmony, with a range of colours making the initial brightness seem deceptive. Throughout Reviver, Seaton uses the guitar for effect, texture and melody more than for rhythm, his strafing lines helping to craft a cogent and coherent sound.
Towards the end of the album, the music becomes subtler and perhaps more obtuse. The relatively lengthy Turning creates a sense of mystery with its lingering sustained chords and gentle electronic interventions. Lucas is at her most vocally creative here too, elaborating and protracting the intended melody. It’s a challenging and quietly evocative mood piece. Antenna is minimal and restrained, intially recalling The xx before bursting into bloom. The dazzling closer Howard 2 Hands does however return a sense of forward motion and energy to proceedings, ending the album on an exuberant and refreshing note.
Sometimes the intricate arrangements on Reviver do serve to distract from the actual song. As outwardly impressive as pieces such as Howard 2 Hands and Crush Times are, it is the lyric and the meaning of the song that perhaps risks becoming lost. This may simply mean that Reviver has a lot of listens in it – or, at least that some investment of time is necessary before it can be appreciated on as many levels as Seaton and Lucas’ creativity demands.