By Dominic V. Cassidy (@lyre_of_apollo)
Following up on their debut 2016 record Taster, the Texas lo-fi duo Hovvdy return with a refinement of their established sound on the 2018 sophomore effort Cranberry. The pillow core band’s soft tones take a chill acoustic sound to the absolute nth degree on this LP, really hammering it down with dreamy guitars characteristic of the genre. These guitars, coupled with the vocals (which are sometimes excessively muffled), really lull the listener into being swept away into the pleasantness of the music.
The band returns to and builds on some of the ideas from Taster here on Cranberry: the music is more polished, and the band seems like it has a more focused direction with where it is going musically. There is an undeniable calmness to the album, which really bespeaks the name of its genre, but this isn’t to say that it doesn’t go above and beyond the easy listening trappings of the pillow core genre.
While as a kind of ultra chill lullaby, the album is just fantastic and it’s something you can kind of breeze in and out of leisurely. But as the group’s melodies cycle through their respective songs with little change, a lack of diversity in the music becomes insurmountable. This results in many of the songs sounding overly similar and consequently unremarkable. This same issue plagued Taster at times, and the monotony of Cranberry affirms that it has not been rectified by the band; though this might be a stylistic choice for the band – given how “easy listening” it is – Hovvdy lose a crucial sense of direction and point, at times feeling irredeemably drone-y, no matter how melodic the songs.
Along with the music sounding fairly similar throughout, the intense muffling of the lyrics (due, no doubt, to the low fidelity recording practices the band favors) fade into the background of the song far too often. And while this technique isn’t without its charm and benefits, it does leave the album lacking, taking away any pleasure that would be discerned from repeated listens.
The album is not without its positives, however. There are tracks on this record that show just a little more polish than their predecessors on Taster and come across much better. One of the best examples of this is the track Truck. The song starts slowly, with a cloud of nice acoustic sounds and little else, and it has a real melancholy vibe to it that begs the listener to feel a bit blue. It’s got a whole story that kind of ebbs on the fringes on the song, passing the tale slowly to the listener: “I won’t come home tonight if you’re going through with it, if there is trouble I will run from it all the time,”. The song gives off a whole rudimentary story telling feel, or maybe a new school story telling. It just does so in a really interesting slow-release way.
But the album does, sadly, fall short quite often. For instance, on tracks like Late, which is certainly good musically, but isn’t anything new or even that easy to listen to. It has an almost pop punk crossed with shoe gaze vibe to it. The vocals in this song take the lo-fi sound entirely too far, with the lyrics being somewhat difficult to make out in the track. For much of the album, one tries to enjoy the music, but when a song is this difficult to understand, it does substantially detract from the listening pleasure.
All in all, Cranberry is a difficult album to consider as anything other than a decent second record. The sound of the album is totally there, yet the production and vocals, however, are severely lacking. And while this can be construed as a part of the whole DIY lo-fi genre, it also heavily detracts from the music and holds it back from being a great sophomore effort.