Review Summary: Indie pop goodness for those looking for a breath of fresh air from a stale genre.
Genres can be a useful thing. While everyone hates that genre nazi who tells you why your music isn't tr00 kvlt EM0, we also appreciate the compartmentalization that genres offer. We can give Sigur Ros a few listens and decide that we want to hear more post-rock, since that's the musical family from which that hails. Or we can hear a Winds of Plague song and decide that deathcore is definitely not something we want to pursue.
But at the same time, genres can be a stereotype, a trap for the creative artist trying to fit inside their "bubble" but still retain some original thought. Some genres are certainly more flexible than others, but in the realm of Indie pop, the trends seem to be getting steadily more pervasive, to the point that bands are mistakenly believing that they'll sound more underground if they duplicate everything their peers are trying.
So it's somewhat ironic that Arkansas-based band Deas Vail have chosen to title their debut "All the Houses Look the Same", because they are certainly not clones of their peers. For starters, vocalist Wes Blaylock has a range that would make many female singers pale, ringing from an angelic falsetto to a low croon along the lines of Ben Gibbard. The singing is definitely a highlight on Deas Vail's immaculately crafted debut, with carefully placed female backing vocals intertwining with Wes' powerful yet unintrusive, providing just the right amount of depth to the melody lines of each song.
However, it takes more than just a good vocalist to qualify an up-and-coming band. Deas Vail's sound is like a blend between the piano-pop balladry of older Coldplay and the smooth Indie sonnets of genre contemporaries Mae or Death Cab for Cutie. What's important, though, is that "All the Houses Look the Same" stays carefully away from even the possibility of such comparison, preferring to use the band's own creative talent to drive the songwriting of their debut. Instrumentally, the record is equal parts piano anthem and guitar-driven Indie rock, and Deas Vail executes both in such a way that they have invented a sound of their own and carved a place for themselves among the trendsetters.
The best example of Deas Vail's sound can be found in "Shoreline", a summarization of everything that makes the band unique. Gentle piano melodies and Wes' midrange singing simmer for a few minutes, joined gradually by clean guitar splashes and string arrangements. The triumphant chorus is accentuated by Wes' unbelievable falsetto notes, creating a tear-jerking climax in which all the instrumental parts come together and blend in a way that makes the listener wonder at what the band was doing BEFORE their debut.
Unfortunately, however, the band still has a few issues to work out. The problem with many unique bands today is that they don't know when to separate creativity from the cheap use of gimmicks. Laziness of this kind is apparent in several tracks on "All the Houses Look the Same", especially on the latter half. "Shadows and City Lights" and "For Miles to Come" are instantly forgettable, relying on lackluster piano and guitar hooks to make them interesting. It seems on songs like this that the band were relying upon Wes' voice like a crutch, without providing the creative power that made the first half of the album so memorable.
But there's enough good here to balance out the shortfallings. Opener and closer "Standing Still" is a single song separated into two parts in "Wish You Were Here" style, and creates quite a moving end to the album. And "Shoreline" is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard coming from such an obscure group. It's up to Deas Vail to figure out where they'll go from here, but if they play to their strengths while doing away with the gimmickry, they have the potential to go beyond trendsetting.