You've got to give credit to any indi-pop band that survives to release its fourth album, and it's almost astonishing when that fourth album is filled with music worth listening to. It's a brutal scene, and most bands use up most of their ideas on their first EP. Morella's Forest, who had a trio of releases on Tooth & Nail in the mid-nineties, are back with a new label, a new sound and some astonishingly good new ideas.
Some things remain the same. Guitarist/keyboardist Shawn Johnson is still writing edgy, melodic tunes to carry vocalist Sydney Rentz' lyrics. Some things change, but largely for the better. The band (which also includes bassist Joel Votaw and drummer Jessie Sprinkle) is working closer to home (Big Beef is headquartered in the band's Dayton, Ohio hometown) and more within themselves (Johnson and Sprinkle produced, with Sprinkle taking a hand in the engineering). The resulting sound is a bit more spare, and as a result more personally affecting, than some of their previous work. The band often sounds like they're ready to break out into a full on rock assault, but Sydney's breathy, sometimes almost ethereal, coo keeps them grounded in a spot just this side of noise, which serves the entire sound well in the long run.
It's been four years since the last Morella's Forest release, but hopefully it won't take four more for them to come up with another set of good ideas. They've survived, but they're more than mere survivors. They're still growing, and still making music that matters in a genre that's too often devoted to the disposable. Tiny Lights of Heaven is a great comeback.
- Shaun Dale
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