From The Hills Below The City is enjoyable and well produced, but lacks the depth and personality to make it a classic.
Houndmouth are born from the alt-county tradition of The Band and Whiskeytown, paired with the pop-folk sensibility of the Lumineers. Expect storied organ-driven ballads woven from honeyed harmonies and lonesome guitar. It is near faultless in its execution of ‘Americana’, so much so that it’s rendered shiny and flat. On most tracks the warmth and heart is buried by the slick production, but they sound like a band that really hits their stride playing live.
Album opener ‘On The Road’ is a great song, though, stirring and stamping, all simple instrumentation knitted together just right. Overall these are simple songs; in the lyrics the titles are repeated often, which runs the gamut from endearing (‘Hey Rose’) to mildly annoying (‘Penitentiary’). At times things border on the overly referential, like closer ‘Palmyra’ – “she took a Kentucky shower / In the pouring Tennessee rain” – (there are a lot of geographical references on this record, but unfortunately they don’t really take us anywhere).
The tales the songs tell are tragic and tainted, but they’re missing the poetry and heart of the alt-country records that have become modern classics. What makes albums like Heartbreaker and O.C.M.S so great is the balance between acknowledgement and innovation – they’re very much “genre” albums, but they manage to be so while bringing something unique to the table. This is where From The Hills… stumbles. It feels as though the band has a wistful nostalgia for Americana and is assured and aware of the tradition, but as a whole it sounds like a very polished exercise, with none of the cracks and grooves that give you something to hold onto and explore.
BY NATALIE AMAT
From The Hills Below The City is out now through Rough Trade/Remote Control.