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Hollows - Vulture

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Artist: Hollows

Album: Vulture

Label: Trouble in Mind

Review date: Aug. 27, 2012

Hollows match the bash and clatter of DIY punk to the tough-but-sweet vulnerability of girl-group pop. They are (mostly) girls, as it happens, and they do stick primarily to the love-and-lose-and-love-again playbook of classic 1960s pop. Still, even the most devoted homage to The Shirelles or The Supremes takes on an off-kilter vibe when performed by educated, empowered, modern-day women.

Hollows (don’t add a “the” unless you’re talking about a NYC-based roots rock band) come from Chicago. The two founders -- Maria Jenkins (organ and voice) and Emma Hospelhorn (bass) -- met via Craigslist, when Jenkins wrote some songs that didn’t fit her then-current outfit Parsley Flakes. Hospelhorn had, for a time, played flute in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, but was looking for a rock outlet. Guitar player Meg Kasten got recruited by the band’s first drummer. Jason Davlantes, the current drummer and sole male in the band, came on later, as did back-up singer and percussionist Hannah Harris. There was a self-titled cassette-only debut on PlusTapes in 2011 that CoCoComa’s Bill Roe tipped in his Dusted Listed as “Equal parts girl-group melodrama mixed with goth-y garage ghoulishness.”

On this second album, Hollows have turned sharper and sweeter, on the one hand, honing a rambunctious punk sting, on the other, surrounding their melodies with lush harmonies and organ. “Golden Chain” stutters and punches during the instrumental breaks, the guitar, bass and drums skittering across anxious staccato riffs. Yet the vocal line is soft, warm and full of vibrato, as welcoming as the instrumentals are aggressive.

You can’t help thinking about the great ‘50s and ‘60s female ensembles when you listen to Vulture, but Hollows’ songs have a buoyant, devil-may-care insouciance that is quite different from old-school female pop. Maybe it’s because they’re in charge here, not imprisoned by some Spector-esque Svengali spell. Maybe it’s because they’ve got a lot going on. Love matters, sure, but these girls have jobs, classes, friends and careers, too. Whatever the reason, they visit the destructive side of love like adventure tourists, snapping photos but emerging without a scratch.

There’s an effervescence to even the most downbeat material. Payback-slanted “V is for Vulture,” for instance, skates right over betrayal. Amid lyrics about drawn curtains and romantic disappoint, Jenkins pops the high notes with cheerful exuberance. Her band mates chime in (“Vultures…” “Failure…”) with a sweet sureness that is at odds with any sense of permanent reversal. Oddball “Rather See Me Dead” – about a lover’s spat – bubbles and percolates musically, a triumphant lift underneath Jenkins’ observation that “Now I’m lying on a basement floor, sad I can’t go home no more.” It would be sad, I suppose, if Hollows sounded a little more broken up about it. But here even the romantic trainwreck songs are really fun and upbeat. “Shapeshifter,” one of the album’s most fetching cuts, bobbles and curves and breaks for cheerful blasts of gym whistles. We are, pretty much, walking on sunshine here, even if the lyrics hint at a darker stroll (“I’m walking forward, toward a world of lies,” says Jenkins).

And this may be why Vulture feels charming but a bit slight. There are songs about heartache, but not so much of the heartbreak itself. The girls are at their most cutting when they take down “Bobby Blueheart,” a hapless fellow garage popper whose “songs are as blue as you.” By the end of this peppy, happy, immune-to-the-downside album, I’d kind of like to hear one of Bobby’s tunes, just for contrast.

By Jennifer Kelly

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