There is an endearing cavalierness to the music that Will Taylor and Charlie Martin have made over the last few years as Hovvdy. The Texas duo is nominally an rock band—signed to the New York label Double Double Whammy, run by members of LVL UP and an early home to Frankie Cosmos, among others—and they make music with guitar, bass, and drums, but there's something a little stranger about their take on the slow, sad sounds of post-millennial DIY rock music. Some of that has to do with the pace, like a host of 90s bands with a similar mindset, they slow the de rigueur sounds of indie rock down to a crawl, like Duster, Bedhead, or Low.
But there's also something in the structure, the aversion to verse-chorus repetition, as well as the specificity of lyrical images (memories of hanging “on the gulf in that screened in room,” or dreams of “the brightest light I’d ever saw”) that makes their music feel wonderfully fragmented. Taster, their 2016 debut reissues this year on DDW, feels as if they were slowly walking along a forest trail, picking up torn up pieces of long forgotten pictures, burned up pages of old notebooks, and stitching them together in songs that are shaggy, but rich. They’re able to convey a sort of naivety and unkemptness—they recorded some of their early works as iPhone voice memos—even when they’re totally in control, a feeling that the house of cards might collapse lending a precarity to the sweet slowness.
Some of that haphazardness, it’d seem, is baked into the story of the band. Over email, the pair explain that they first came together when they met and realized that the songs they’d made shared a lot in common. There was no overall concept or aim necessarily. “It felt natural and fun to combine efforts,” Martin says.
On February 9, they’ll release their second album, Cranberry, which brings a lot of the foggy ideas they’ve explored with the band into clearer focus. Over 12 songs, they dig further into the creeping rhythms and hazy melodies that they explored on Taster, but the music’s a bit more structured, a bit more linear. Part of the charm of Hovvdy songs is the ability they have to go in any direction, like a cloud of smoke escaping from their lo-fi experimentation. This time around, they’ve just figured out how to direct those energies to clearer ends. “I’m slowly warming up to letting myself be pop,” Taylor says.
“I recently wrote some songs that have choruses, so I’m feeling great about that,” Martin deadpans.
To hear Martin and Taylor tell it, they’re just some guys that tried to write some “quiet and heartfelt” songs, and they’re happy if people connect to that. But Cranberry has some incredibly affecting moments in spite of those modest ambitions. The record’s title track, premiering today, is a fuzzy sub-two-minute ballad about the desire, Martin explains, to become a “better listener and, more generally, being willing to make changes in yourself to be a better person, friend, partner.” Like most Hovvdy songs, it creeps along, whispering over an elliptical acoustic guitar, building slowly, but driving nowhere in particular.
The distinctions between verses and chorus are blurry—if they’re there at all—but here the duo imbue everything with a sing-songy bliss as distant keyboard sounds swell in the background, lending a big-screen drama to distracted parking lot conversations. It feels autobiographical, but in the way that you write your own memories, fuzzing out unpleasant bits, so that even the uncomfortable parts can give you hope about the world.
“I see us both becoming more straightforward in our writing, so I’m not surprised if the new songs feel more hopeful,” Martin says. “In general we are both pretty hopeful people, I think.”
As winter approaches, hope’s something worth clinging to, so check “Cranberry” up above and look out for Hovvdy’s sophomore LP February 9 on Double Double Whammy.