The Babies – Our House on the Hill

The Babies started out in 2009 as a side-project, not a promise. But after a few singles and a mildly well-received debut LP, Woods bassist Kevin Morby and Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone don’t seem to be only leasing the idea of the Babies anymore. With their second LP, Our House on the Hill, the Babies have found a sense of permanency.

It couldn’t have been easy. To reach such stability, compromises must have been made. Unlike their earlier releases, this new batch of work shows real collaboration – not just, “you take this song, I’ll take that one.” Morby and Ramone have come to terms with what each of them can offer the Babies, and the melting pot’s mixed just right this time. Ramone backs Morby more often than she overcomes him. The melodies grow from Ramone’s garage-pop background and Morby combs smooth the flyaway fuzz with his calming folk sentiments.

It’s that harmonious blend, that acceptance of what works and what doesn’t, that bore the heaping helping of near-perfect pop songs on Our House on the Hill. The peppy “Alligator” features Morby vocally but the riffs are cleaned-up garage at the root. It’s like they drew a line between Woods and Vivian Girls, stuck a pushpin in it and called it the Babies. The sound is perfectly in the middle, weighing equally on both side of influence for something uniquely charming.

That first melody forays perfectly into “Slow Walking,” where Morby and Ramone employ a poppy back-and-forth. Ramone’s signature pitch-oblivious vocals didn’t work as well in the earlier tunes as they do here because they weren’t so carefully placed. Here, Ramone mainly gets the lesser “response,” a role she’s better suited for, while Morby, whose singing approach is far more traditional, handles the heavier-handed “call.”

Generally, it’s Morby at the forefront of the LP. The subtly menacing “Mess Me Around” is almost completely his, and the grand finale of a smugly sung slew of insults, “You stupid fuckin’ kid,” sticks. “On My Team” is hypnotizing in its repetitive slur of the title line.

Mid-album, however, Ramone gets “Baby” both vocally and texturally, the fuzz thicker than on any other track. Almost as if to compensate, its successor is an acoustic Morby-only number, and later “That Boy” and “Wandering” are almost as minimal and folk-based. These aren’t sore thumbs, but they do stand as proof of Ramone and Morby’s first loves, a residual reminder of life before the Babies. That’s OK. It’s forgivable. No marriage is free of the history of other lovers. But they’d be better served keeping the baggage at bay for a while. The Babies are at their best when they’re working together, not rotating shifts.

The Babies
Our House on the Hill