With their second album Vulture, Chicago indie band Hollows has both expanded and refined their approach, moving outward from their scrappy, maudlin roots to a more realized sound that draws on complex harmonies and organ-driven melodies. Early singles and the group's self-titled 2009 LP were celebrated for their girl group-gone-punk sound, and hinted at the influence of proto-punk heroines like Joan Jett and Debbie Harry that permeates Vulture. Adding more guitars and more complex arrangements to the equation, the band fills out songwriter Maria Jenkins' sometimes moody, sometimes saccharine pop compositions and smooths out the jaggedness of earlier recordings. The newfound clarity in both production and overall vision on Vulture bring Hollows out of the reverb clouds of their first record, and highlights just how solid the songwriting has become. "Big Decisions (Country Song)" comes on like a dissonant swell of post-punk, but winds through unexpected changes and incredibly catchy hooks. Songs like "Strange Effect" and "V Is for Vulture" both employ disarmingly subtle horn and string arrangements in similar spots of their respective builds. Suddenly these somewhat skeletal rock songs arrive in the glowing happy-sad sparkle of Belle & Sebastian-like orchestration. The girl group influences are flown in flying colors and soaring "sha-la-las" on the Farfisa organ-powered "Bobby Blueheart," as well as the upbeat "Shapeshifter." Whether Hollows is utilizing chamber pop touches, dense harmonies, roughneck guitar tones, or Blondie-style pop hooks, all of these elements lie low in the mix; they're never overbearing nor announcing themselves as a gimmick or shtick. Instead the band blends an extremely metered and tasteful pastiche of sounds throughout the album, keeping each song focused and allowing individual tracks enough difference from each other to keep things interesting over the album's duration. With their earliest work, Hollows showed potential as part of the post-Vivian Girls camp of punkishly dreamy female-fronted bands that were popping up circa 2009. Vulture is a picture of a band coming into their own, far surpassing any trends and offering up a set of fresh and engaging tunes. If this leap in development is any indication of what Hollows has to offer, listeners are in store for even further greatness with future records.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas