Review Summary: Dip your toes into some water-pop.
In terms of enticing interest, press kits for musicians can run the gamut of effectiveness these days. Needing to be concise, but sufficiently distinctive, such write-ups should keep the reader awake without inducing hysterical fits of laughter (although examples of the latter sure can be fun to read). With all the genre-mixing in existence – and in vogue - currently, describing a band’s sound can be one way to differentiate from peers, with self-proclaimed genres popping up frequently. If labeling your group as “death metal” or “funeral doom metal” isn’t getting the job done, then why not delineate it as “cremation metal”? One such self-labeling which caught my eye recently was that of “water pop”, by Louisianan quintet Super Water Sympathy. Would the vocals on their second LP ‘Hydrogen Child’ be delivered from under-water, or would the music be so ambient that you could hear the splendor of the waterfalls emanating from the speakers? Thankfully, neither is the case.
As one can probably guess, the designation of water pop is more gimmick than insightful. Sure, there are some water-based lyrics infused into the album’s themes, as well as borderline ambient use of keys, guitar and orchestral arrangements. However, the term seems to have been created, if only because it sounds better than “alternative indie pop-rock”. Thankfully, it is only the foot in the door (or should that be “toes in the water”) genre label which is gimmicky here, since the record itself is a welcome revelation of a band that should be destined for big things. One need only listen to opener and lead single ‘Uh Oh!’ for proof; a bouncy and deceptively catchy tune where each instrument gets a chance to shine without dominating proceedings. Providing the framework for the eleven tracks which follow, driving bass and cavernous drums provide a proficient backdrop for keys that twinkle and shimmering guitar melodies.
As is the case with many a female-led rock outfit, the most distinctive – and ultimately essential – component for success is the lead vocals... And it is with Ansley Hughes, where Super Water Sympathy have a true point of difference. Impressively delivering equal parts quirkiness, power and range, Hughes has the versatility to successfully deliver pop, rock and all points in between. Her effectively scratchy inflection works a treat on the playful ‘Sunday School Dress’ and catchy sing-along that is ‘Avalon’, while the best showcase for her voice are piano-driven tracks such as ‘Pipe Dream’, ‘When You’re Not Around’ and beat-less closer ‘Magnolia Parade’. The flow of her vocals is often a hooky strength, even if the reliance on rhymes occasionally results in some misplaced cheesiness. Furthermore, while the lyrics occasionally tend toward vocabulary spouting nonsense to heighten imagery, one cannot help but be captivated by their beguiling nature.
Much like Hughes’ vocals, Super Water Sympathy are accessible, yet far from cookie-cutter... Similarly, their sound is familiar, yet irritatingly difficult to pinpoint comparisons. Well-produced by Brit Cam Blackwood, ‘Hydrogen Child’ sounds crisp and cohesive, delivering some exquisite textures with more than sufficient diversity. Most promising – and equally frustrating - is the fact that many of Hydrogen Child’s shortcomings could easily be refined... The twelve tracks could do with some tightening in terms of song duration, there is a tendency to lean a little too often towards a mid-tempo pace, while the haunting melody of ‘Cantalopah’ and reprise of sorts that is ‘Pistol’ feel more like superior interludes unnecessarily stretched out to four minutes. Encouragingly, these all amount to rather minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things, since ‘Hydrogen Child’ ultimately casts Super Water Sympathy as a rare beast: a unique, creative and consistent band with genuine pop smarts and mainstream potential.
Recommended Tracks: Uh Oh!, Pipe Dream, Avalon & Sunday School Dress.