It's time for another installment of my however-many-part series, "Better Know a Hometown Band." Tonight: Bloomington, Indiana's husband&wife, The Fightin' husbands&wives! Sounds like a domestic disturbance over here.
Dark Dark Woods is the band's third full-length, and while I'm not familiar with their old material, you can tell that time has gelled these musicians into a tight-working unit. husband&wife are a slow-burn kinda band, and they have a lot of restraint and patience. They build "Mulberry Squeezins" with three minutes of tom work and reverb-cloaked guitar lines before the vocals come in. "Haven't Got a Friend" attempts near-"Transatlanticism" tricks, growing the tune mostly over the repeated lines "You sound like everybody else / When you say / You haven't got a friend in the world" before vocalist Mike Adams turns it on himself. I get a Death Cab vibe other places, like the We Have the Facts-ish "England Lives" with interweaving arpeggiated lines and an explosive drum-propelled section. "Thanks for Understanding" starts more stripped down than a Pedro the Lion track, but over the course of its five minutes it swells with guitar squalls and increasingly fill-heavy drums as the vocals layer and repeat.
While they are quite skilled at this direction, I prefer it when they pop it up a bit like on standout "I Got Fat," with its country-tinged progression, slide guitar lines and smooth sustained vocal harmonies in the chorus. They also employ mellow brass chording, vibraphone and a bass solo (courtesy of Bryant Fox, frontman of Alexander the Great from my last segment), without making the song seem cluttered in the least. The lyrics are repetitive here, as they are often throughout the album, but in this case I couldn't care less. When "Red Cross Fever" reprises the verse, hitting the distortion and laying into a cool hihat-centered beat, it feels so good. However, these moments are further between than I would prefer. Not to say there aren't attention grabbing parts in the slow numbers; "I'll Avenue Body, Graceland Lord, I'll Avenue Life" sways gently but will still hook you with the perfect peaks of the chorus vocal, and it surprises with a sudden dynamic shift to finish.
Dark Dark Woods is expertly crafted and performed and was recorded with attention to the open space the band provides. While much of the album floats into the background for me, I'm frequently snapped back to attention. There is also something to be said for a band that doesn't succumb to the easy pop formula. Jimmy, let's put husband&wife up on the big board!