Summer Hymns Backward Masks

[Misra; 2006]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: indie pop, lush slowcore
Others: Luna, Lambchop, American Analog Set

Georgia’s Summer Hymns have made a point of sounding exactly how you’d imagine a band called Summer Hymns to sound. From album to album, full productions have always wrapped central songsmith Zachary Gresham’s tunes in cozy blankets – pleasant enough, but hard to pay rapt attention to, and oftentimes easy to write off as pretty background music.

Happy, then, that Backward Masks leads off with “Way You Walk,” which places Gresham’s voice up front in the mix and allows the song’s melody to carry it. Here, I thought, is where the band can prove themselves; there’s nothing inherently wrong with nice production values, but Summer Hymns have always kept me at a distance. Unfortunately, “Way You Walk” is something of a red herring, as the rest of the record is just as full and shimmery as ever. The relatively lively “14 Inches of Snow” and intro to “Pheromones Induced” show signs of life, but neither strays too far from the band’s signature sound.

The group’s press materials note that Backward Masks took four years and 15 band members to make; funny, then, that it still sounds so samey. It’s a pleasant record, and there’s certainly an audience for it, but when outfits like Luna (RIP) and American Analog Set have been able to blend their wistfulness with a wider palette, even just a little, they’ve reached greater heights. Even Tom Waits’ sleepy Alice, which was the next disc in my changer after Backwards Masks, sounded startling by comparison. Is it too much to ask Summer Hymns to pen a few winter jams?

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