If there’s one thing the Portland scene does well, it’s dream-pop. With the likes of Menomena, The Decemberists and The Shins paid up members, the first UK release from this west coast husband and wife duo is eagerly anticipated.
On paper it’s an ideal coupling. Keith Kenniff is best known for his outings with Goldmund and Helios, specialising in ambient electronica. Hollie Kenniff, on the other hand, has a voice that could melt butter and transport listeners to the sunniest Portland afternoon. They released their debut album, Songs About Snow, in the US back in 2008. Save Your Season is an early release for new label Village Green, run by former A&R man Mark Kirby. He was responsible for signing the likes of Nouvelle Vague, Jose Gonzalez and Little Dragon, so it’s easy to see the appeal for him. But for the rest of us… after a few tracks the mind starts to wander.
It starts well, with Chasing The Wind Catching The Shadows, a trippy instrumental that from the off injects a heavy dose of Kenniff’s influence. It’s just over a minute long and floats into Aviary, a slice of M83 cloudy pop, full of spine tingling optimism that builds up and up, as Hollie purrs “I lie awake dreaming of landscapes in the rain.”
Single, Days Gone By, sees the theme change, with a gritty, crunching indie guitar intro slapped over ’60s girl group vocals. It’s their most melodic song and shows Hollie’s voice at its best. A Sarah Cracknell-esque poised, calm and controlled voice that never looses its way, when she’s up against a solid sound she sounds, by contrast, beautifully fragile. But by song number four, the album’s title track, it begins to lose its way. The vocals plummet, the electronic hum is bland and the record’s one-tempo policy begins to grate.
Cherry Radio is a confused ball of noise; gentle but chaotic, there’s so much going on, but no matter how many sounds they plug in, it’s still just a bit flat. Things improve slightly with No Letting Go, a flickering disco beat that compliments Hollie’s voice, but Stay is distorted to the point that she’s drowned out. The layers of gentle fuzz and reverb don’t suit them, and it feels like a vanity project for Keith, who can’t leave his day job behind. It’s a shame, because as a stripped back, guitar-and-synth act, they’d sound good. They’ve got the raw materials, but have over-complicated and polished it, and sometimes, as the old saying goes, less is more.
This is most apparent on the final track, and highlight of the album, Why Don’t We. By far the least cluttered, most simple song, it’s sparseness is emphasised by Hollie’s cold, emotionless vocal which finally reaches reaches the heights its threatened to throughout the previous nine tracks.
Where their city-mates have succeeded in creating cult albums that have carved a distinct sound and scene, Mint Julep failed; there’s no personality here, nothing to cling on to and love.