Boston trio Quilt are a band who place more value than most on the music of the late 1960s, a time when progressive musicians were faced with an endless vista of creative possibilities. It must have been a slight problem for the band then that, due to budgetary issues and a lack of time to really hone their craft, they could not fully realise their updating of languorous psych rock on their self-titled 2011 debut album.
Hardened by two years of constant touring and finally being able to record in a proper studio within the Brooklyn offices of their label Mexican Summer, the group have been able to finely cultivate their second album Held In Splendor. It’s a follow up that is more refined and textured than their debut, and one that allows them to expand on their long held inspirations.
There is a wide-eyed positivity and freedom of expression about the 13 tracks here that represents their ardour of summer of love mythologizing. Each track has distinct echoes of the late ’60s in some form or another, be it the charming Byrds-like psychedelia of Eye Of The Pearl or the scratchy country shuffle of opener Arctic Shark. As lovingly crafted as these songs are though, a problem with the album is the obviousness of the reference points and how perilously close they veer to revivalism and pastiche. As the band’s name suggests, however, the sheer loveliness of most of the songs gives the music a comforting quality, which makes the album an easy listen.
Where Quilt have made a significant step forward on Held In Splendor is in establishing and building upon their band dynamic. Harmonies and melodies are shared between Shane Butler and fellow singer Anna Fox Rochinski, and there is no one obvious dominant personality. It’s Rochinski’s voice that really stands out though, and the most alluring moments on the album frequently feature her contributions. The airy lilt of Tie Up The Tides, featuring her breathy vocals to the fore, is a particular highlight.
Despite the accomplished nature of many of the songs here, you are frequently left frustrated by a nagging feeling that Quilt could easily push their music on further; they certainly have the talent and the songwriting ability. Yet too often Held In Splendor settles for a gentle kind of sleepy psych rock that is meandering and pleasant rather than mind bending. A band like Tame Impala seem to take similar influences to an altogether more challenging, higher ascension. Quilt in comparison are content to kick back and drift away. A bit more of an edge to their easygoing ’60s pop psych would be welcome.
When Quilt do provide an extra impetus, as on the rocking burst of guitar that punctuates the dreamy Mary Mountain, it’s invigorating. Tired And Buttered also has a carefree nature that somehow thrills rather than sedates. Despite the album’s general feel of blissful reverie, it’s a hard heart that cannot find something to savour in the gorgeous melodies of the pastoral folk swirl of Just Dust. Perhaps on their next record Quilt can find a balance between simple beauty and the more progressive and challenging music that came out of their primary influences. For now, Held In Splendor is a promising, if limited, stepping stone.