When writing about the quietly psychedelic, it’s easy to start encountering types: the band that sounds like they could be a lost classic from 1973; the lost classic from 1973 that sounds like it could have been made yesterday. Held in Splendor, second album from the Massachusetts trio Quilt, runs up against a few of these ledes.
There’s a properness to their precision, and some unabashedly transcendental lyrics ready to be crooned. And, yes, let’s get it out of the way: this is a specifically blissed-out brand of psychedelia, abounding with vocal harmonies and lush melodies. But there’s also a welcome structural surrealism here, a willingness — on this album’s best songs, at least — to tinker with expectations and structures as a whole.
Jarvis Taveniere (Woods) produces, tipping us off to the aesthetic here. Both Quilt and Woods enjoy entangling melodies that stop just short of excess. The coda of “Mary Mountain” takes what had been a fairly straightforward, uptempo pop song and draws it closer and closer towards a shifting center. Guitarist/organist Anna Fox Rochinski’s vocals are the standout throughout the album – though the harmonies made by Rochinski, drummer John Andrews, and guitarist Shane Butler take on their own quality, as on “A Mirror,” one of the more straightforward songs on Held in Splendor (and one of the best.) The stark, acoustic “Talking Trains” similarly finds a great deal of focus in a pared-down approach, with Rosinski heading into Karen Dalton territory.
Sometimes, the group’s commitment to psychedelia can frustrate. The first half of “Tie up the Tides” involves more than a few declarations and descriptions of psychedelic imagery over reverberating notes; it feels more paint-by-numbers than inspired. Quilt are at their best when shaking the foundations of a familiar style: closer “I Sleep In Nature,” for one, takes a pastoral British folk-rock melody, with hints of a DIY choir in the vocal approach. And “Saturday Bride” has something unsettling and jittery below the airy, soaring vocals, a consciously brittle rhythm that seems ready to shatter at any moment – or veer into something new. At times, an inventiveness and a willingness to veer into the traditional with upending in mind conjures Super Furry Animals at their peak.
With Held in Splendor, this group discovers their influences, then surrounds and deconstructs them. At its best, the album achieves bliss and demands attention.