The Soft Hills

The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth

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With The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth, Seattle's the Soft Hills come into their own with a well-honed, softly psychedelic indie sound. Following an EP and their 2010 full-length Noruz, the group went through some lineup changes and made a decided effort to streamline their sound somewhat. Based around the tender yet unsettled voice of singer/guitarist Garrett Hobba, the songs have grown rich with continued experimentation. This, the band's second full-length, fills out the sound with subtle electronics and a focus on huge vocal harmonies. At first the layers of vocals bring to mind contemporaries Fleet Foxes, but the Soft Hills wander down darker, more angular paths with their combined voices. The spookier vocal melodies mix well with earthy guitar grit, landing the band in a territory far more Crazy Horse (or deeper still, the eerie drug haze of David Crosby's If I Could only Remember My Name) than any 2010's indie. The production here, handled by Lucinda Williams' producer Matt Brown, guides the songs to their best possible destinations. Brown's adventurous choices lean always toward extremes in noise and almost Pink Floyd-like touches of classic acid rock trippiness, capturing the most spontaneous and interesting readings of the Soft Hills' already strong songs. A different production style could have rendered The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth sterile or cloying. "River Boat" floats along on distorted drums, cartoonish synth runs, and a genuinely sad detached vocal, coming off like a bizarre Flaming Lips/Carter Family collaboration from an uneasy dream. The atypical drum sound, big and crumbling, shows up on several of the songs here to great effect, driving things into a bubbling tension. The album grows stronger as its second half wears on. Mesmerized ballad "Return to Eden" sounds like Grizzly Bear on a backroads hunting trip or Neil Young playing "Cortez the Killer" on a spaceship. By "Falling Leaves," the albums' mellow Crosby, Stills Nash & Young-inflected last track, the Soft Hills have taken us down many strange country roads. We've checked out farm houses full of Moog synthesizers and waded in forest streams while softly creepy love songs boomed out of a mysterious intercom system set up in the trees. It's never been clear if we've been in loving hands or in serious danger the entire time, but the ride has been so interesting it didn't really ever come up.

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