viernes, 13 de noviembre de 2020

The Bats - Foothills (2020)


The Bats have made a career of consistency, keeping the same lineup and not changing their sound too dramatically since forming in 1982. Their slow and steady approach has resulted in the straightforward presentation of countless wonderful songs, all quietly accumulating over the course of a nearly 40-year run that brings us to tenth album Foothills. As with everything that preceded it, Foothills is a no-frills collection of slightly melancholic but ever-upbeat pastoral pop songs written by guitarist/vocalist Robert Scott, and brought to life by the subtle touches added by the rest of the band. This takes the form of a few jaunty, uptempo rockers like "Warwick" and "Red Car," but sticks mainly to patiently paced jangly fare. The chiming guitars and simple shifts in dynamics between verses and choruses on album opener "Trade in Silence" all make for an incredibly direct tune, but it's the kind of less-is-more approach that has defined the band's best work over the years.

On more slow-moving tracks like gorgeous closer "Electric Sea View," the Bats' gifts for understated arrangement come through clearly, with gentle vocal harmonies and layers of tremolo-heavy keyboards and fuzz guitar adding depth and mystery to the sonic picture. Over the course of Foothills, incredibly small production choices like these make a huge impact. A single droning synthesizer note on "Warwick," the trembling guitar leads that meander throughout "Another Door," and barely there accordion tones on "As You Were" all expand the songs without overwhelming them. The rising waves of feedback and glockenspiel that show up for just a moment at the very end of the steady and wistful "Change Is All" instantly take the song to a different plane before quickly melting into the next track. Similar to the musical component, the lyrical content of Foothills is never too overt or heavy-handed. A band that's been active in relatively obscure circles for 38 years might be prone to tunes about growing older, nostalgia, or struggles with change, but if those expected themes appear, they come up more as emotional implications or nods to universal feelings instead of blunt statements. The Bats hold tightly to their time-tested sound on Foothills, producing another 12 songs of bright and wistful pop not quite like even their closest peers in the New Zealand indie pop scene. At this point, the standardization of their sound is the furthest thing from a criticism. The Bats' ability to achieve beautiful new results by returning time and again to the same specific set of sounds and inspirations remains one of the best things about the band.

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