An Austin-based indie rock duo whose intimate, rough-hewn sound across their first two albums owed a large debt to '90s slowcore, Hovvdy collaborated with an outside co-producer for the first time for third album Heavy Lifter. Bringing in Ben Littlejohn (a key guest musician on 2018's Cranberry who also mastered their 2016 debut), they stuck to home studios and to the realm of low-volume lo-fi while slightly refining their sound and bringing vocals to the fore. The result is a more coherent set of tunes that don't veer far from Hovvdy's established ruminative demeanor. Mixing acoustic rhythm guitar, a gentle electric guitar countermelody, and quietly humming organ under restrained vocals, opening track "1999" is presented with an immediacy that's maintained throughout the album, even on tracks with studio effects like double-tracked vocals ("So Brite"), Auto-Tune ("Tools"), or prominent keyboards ("Keep It Up"). The bulk of the material, though, remains earthy and warm, anchored in acoustic guitar and sometimes piano, with pedal steel adding twangy texture to selections like "Lifted" and "Pixie." The former is a particularly lyrical, almost hymn-like track with improvised-sounding piano fleshing out strummed chords and harmonized vocals. Later, the well-meaning "Watergun," offers help whenever needed, however ineffectual ("When you see the world caught on fire/I'll try to put it out with my water gun"). It features an easygoing, lightly swung rhythm carried by guitars and piano and eventually accented by subtle brass and keyboards. Even the programmed beats of the chipper "Mr. Lee" and the manipulated sounds of "TellmeI'masinger" become organic and understated in the context of these intimate songs. Ultimately, Heavy Lifter strengthens structure and melody without emerging from a place of guarded introversion.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson