Sandwitches

Mrs. Jones' Cookies

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With sophomore release Mrs. Jones' Cookies, the Sandwitches expand on the eerie country-informed garage pop that made up their 2009 debut, How to Make Ambient Sad Cake. Hailing from San Francisco, the Sandwitches have loose ties to a scene of bands doing this type of whimsical, fractured psychedelia. Vocalist/guitarists Grace Cooper and Heidi Alexander once handled backup singing duties for the Fresh & Onlys, and the band's circle of contemporaries includes other Bay Area garage-psych acts like Sic Alps and Thee Oh Sees. The Sandwitches' sound on Mrs. Jones' Cookies is rooted in this brand of '60s-influenced primitive tunefulness, but diversifies with a lackadaisical country-drenched style. The sultry ooze of tracks like "Over the Moon" and "Black Rider" highlight Cooper and Alexander's intertwining vocal deliveries. Like a jet-lagged Loretta Lynn and a mumblier PJ Harvey, the pair trade off lead vocals with a loping intensity that builds up but never breaks out. The songs are smartly catchy, even-tempered affairs that sit nicely in a reverb-glazed but recognizably pop production.

All of this would suggest a pleasant, affable alt-country record falling midway between classic country crooner influences and any number of softly psychedelic indie bands. Despite having those trappings, the Sandwitches don't actually fit the mold. What comes through at first as tender and unassuming, upon closer inspection, becomes clear as legitimately weird. Lyrics are drawled and buried to the point of being benign, but the occasional "Get it off of me!!" or "I want to choke and float around" pokes through, adding an unsettling darkness to a seemingly friendly picture. These songs pose as sunshine-covered, but a thundercloud is always sounding in the distance. Other times these weird moments seem almost cagey. You get the sense that the Sandwitches know what they're doing, purposefully obfuscating ugly themes with earnest tunes and waiting to see who notices as they push it as far as they can. Album closer "Heavy Times" perfectly sums all the disparate elements of Mrs. Jones' Cookies. A galloping country-tinged beat backs up ethereal vocal harmonies, and a melodically complex arrangement serves as a veil for equally strong undercurrents of desperation and humor.

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