When I review a new album, I like to give it a couple listens before putting fingers to keyboard. I contend that the most important of these listens is what I refer to as the Morning Commute Test.
Sure, the D.C. Metro has some things going for it: it’s clean, has blinky lights that flash when the train approaches and the functionality of the escalators is always a surprise. But riding the same route twice a day gets rather dull after a few months. Hence, the iPod is your friend.
Recently, Chicago-area band Hemmingbirds’ first album, Death Wave, which was self-released by the group last year, was subjected to this rigorous test and passed with flying colors.
The album kicks off with the short, but sweet “The New Age,” which features stunning vocal harmonies reminiscent of Fleet Foxes vocal-driven tunes. The band’s vocal prowess carries throughout the album.
Hemmingbirds are also no slouches on the instrumental side either. Death Wave’s instrumentation is wonderfully layered with multiple guitars, keyboards and, on occasion, band founder Yoo Soo Kim’s viola. Kim’s string work is a particularly nice complement to “Treetops” and “Old Fire.” In “Old Fire,” the vocals and viola mimic each other throughout in a mesmerizing fashion. They’re also masters of the well-placed hand clap (And who doesn’t love a good hand clap?).
Part of what’s fun about listening to Hemmingbirds is trying to pick out where their influences lie. As mentioned above, their harmonizing vocals channel Fleet Foxes at times. The viola-laced “Treetops” has hints of Andrew Bird’s style. I could go on and on about which other recent indie or alternative bands seem to have influenced Hemmingbirds. But they seem to have an appreciation for the classic as well – “Slippery Slope” and it’s slowly rocking guitar riff and vocal crescendo reminded me of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
What made this album really pass the Morning Commute Test was its consistent, upbeat rock-pop sound. “Mellow Gold Haze,” Death Wave’s second track, is the kind of catchy that it’ll get stuck in your head for the rest of the day, but won’t drive you insane. It put a spring in my step and a smile on my face, and that, my friends, is exactly what morning commute music should do.