The Soft Hills

Chromatisms

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AllMusic Review by

Seattle soft psych-rockers the Soft Hills blended the rural with the spectral on their 2012 album The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth. That album's magnanimous blend of heavy guitar tones, spaced-out production, and gentle vocal harmonies found itself in the strange waters somewhere between a modern indie folk sound and a throwback to classic rock's FM radio freakouts. With third album Chromatisms, the band digs deeper into the sound it began on the album prior, turning more toward the spacy than the folky on these ten songs. Beginning with muddy rockers like "Riding High" and "Sweet Louise," the tone is set for a tense and brooding album. Fleet Foxes-like harmonies tell stories of depression and giving up while waves of looping guitar and crashing drums cruise by with abandon before colliding with malfunctioning analog synth noise. It's when the Soft Hills turn the volume down, however, that their strengths and subtleties shine through the most. The gorgeously spare "Dear Mr. Moonlight" begins with a dialed-back duet of Pink Floyd-esque echoed pulses and singer Garrett Hobba's thin voice delayed into the stratosphere. The song patiently unfolds into a melancholic wandering akin to Neil Young's darkest moments circa On the Beach. It's a breathtaking moment, and one that only gets space to breathe when the band slows down enough to let it happen. Similarly, "Un" coasts by on a psychedelic groove augmented by graceful harmonies. The relatively less boisterous track calls to mind both Bobb Trimble's cold isolation and the inner darkness of Dennis Wilson's masterpiece Pacific Ocean Blue. A fair amount of reverb, tape echo, and majestic synthesizer shows up throughout Chromatisms, and intricate touches like these come through best in the quiet moments, but also add depth and power to epic tracks like "Mighty River." It's a washy, varied ride from a band increasingly in control of its powers. As the Soft Hills continue to hone their sound, the moments of spaced-out production meeting tender harmony make more sense, as do the blasts of fuzz and tension.

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