Hidden Gems – THE BABIES – Our House on the Hill

 

TheBabies

 

Big big claim for this one: Our House on the Hill is one of my favourite albums ever. Like, EVER. Ostensibly a side project for Kevin Morby of the band Woods, and Cassie Ramone from the Vivian Girls, they released two albums of which this is the second. Morby has since gone on to have a solo career in which he seems to be following a very serious, timeless-sounding songwriting strategy, in the vein of Lou Reed and Patti Smith. And I like it. But here, back in 2012, was a moment in time where it sounds like he was having a little bit more fun. You cannot underestimate the input of Ramone either, because the tracks she sings on are fantastic. And when they sing together it reminds me of It’s a Shame About Ray era Lemonheads with Evan Dando and Julianna Hatfield sharing vocal duties.

 

 

I thought I’d share a live version of ‘Slow Walkin’, mainly so you can see the band and because it was recorded for KEXP – if you’ve never listened to KEXP then you need to. It’s the reason internet radio was invented. It’s a bit punky this one, a touch of The Undertones to it, some brilliantly deadpan vocals which hover just on the border of being in and out of tune, but with some nice surf guitar which roots it very firmly in the American indie songbook.

And then there’s ‘Mess Me Around’, which has a proper video and everything. No idea what that video has to do with the track, but let’s not get lost in details. I love this song, and not just because of the driving rhythm and great guitar part, I also like the descent into profanity and rant about idiots in the lyrics. It’s a good sing-a-long bit, a nice bit of stress relief, similar to that bit in Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name Of’…

 

 

‘Moonlight Mile’ is probably the best track on the album. Being my favourite song on my favourite record puts it right up there in my top ten, maybe top five songs of all time. When I said Morby was now going for timeless-sounding songwriting, I think this was probably the first time he achieved it. You could make a case for it reminding you of pretty much anything ever recorded by a US indie or alternative artist since the ’60’s. When I listen to it I think of the aforementioned Lou Reed and Patti Smith, R.E.M., The Shins, Pavement, Love, Iggy Pop etc. etc. It just seems to me to distill the whole spirit and style of fifty year’s worth of outsider rock music into one song. That’s some feat.

 

 

I could talk about every song on this record at great length because there isn’t a bad one on it. But I won’t. What you really need to do is go and listen to it because it’ll speak for itself. I picked ‘Moonlight Mile’ as my track of the day on the Rock and Roll blog a few weeks back – you can see that here – and on that post I talked about the album being the aural equivalent of reading a Denis Johnson book or watching a Jim Jarmusch film. Or Kevin Smith. Or anything really that delves into the ordinary lives and offbeat reality of the US that exists under the glossy Hollywood face it presents to the world. It has that very essence of Americana stamped right into its DNA, the one you find in Raymond Carver stories. Oh sod it, I’ll share one more song below and then I’m done.

 

 

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