The Harvey Girls I’ve Been Watching a Lot of Horror Movies Lately

[Circle Into Square; 2010]

Styles: psych-pop, folk-pop, electro pop
Others: Akron/Family, Circulatory System, The Selmanaires, A Band of Bees

I’ve Been Watching a Lot of Horror Movies Lately needs to see a psychiatrist. Rarely does a record possess such clearly split personalities, and even less often does one do it so successfully. In fact, never mind. Let’s leave it unmedicated.

The Harvey Girls, a Portland husband-and-wife duo that shares its name with a 1946 Judy Garland film based on a book by Samuel Hopkins Adams, do so much more than two people reasonably should. Melissa Rodenbeek and Hiram Lucke infuse each of the album’s nine songs with their own personality, one that may or may not make any sense whatsoever in the album’s context.

Fortunately, all of Horror’s songs play well with others. Although the record begins with bird noises and horse whinnying before it launches leadoff “The Body Without Any Eyes,” the most Americana-centric track the record’s got, it certainly wanders far from this bluegrass-y starting point. “Fwiw” and “Caerse Muerto,” with their low vocals, near-tribal percussion, and melodic post-pop layers, have little in common with the almost electro-dance bent of “Smile Like Gwynplaine.” The latter is a whirring, synth-heavy romp reminiscent of the slanted pop of The Unicorns while maintaining an almost military snare-and-stick-drumming backing.

Conversely, “Puss” saunters off into much more psychedelic territory, all whining backwards guitar and breathy vocals. Supplemented by a string section, the voice collage takes on a blissful, fantastical quality almost un-echoed in the rest of the album. “A Letter To The Bees,” the record’s only other like-minded number, features Smashing-Pumpkins-esque humming over almost quintessential 90s alternative percussion and jangly tambourine. The songs seem taken from unrelated mental homes, formed out of disparate musical precedent, and explored with an instrumental grab bag that’s as surprising as it is mysterious.

Were any of Horror’s divergent sonic thoughts expanded into their own multi-song albums, each would have enough content to feel fleshed-out and whole. That The Harvey Girls can’t pick one idea (or six) to run with hopefully just speaks to how many they’ve got stored up to use in the future. The duo’s dedication to the completion of each idea crops up in the well-orchestrated horn section during “Caerse Muerto,” in the rhythmic ambition and echoing electronica of “Alpha Invasion On Delta Waves (Lullaby Of Brueghel),” and in the masterful ambient noise swaths behind the gorgeous pop of “Monster” (which is perhaps the album’s standout). Maybe it’d be more easily listenable if they did just that — picked one sound and stuck to it. But Horror proves challenging in the best way, rewarding you more each time you listen, arguing adamantly that, though it undoubtedly has a personality disorder, it’s bursting with personality.

Links: The Harvey Girls - Circle Into Square

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