Morella's Forest is back from a four year hiatus with a new label and yet a new twist to their ever changing sound. Along with new bassist, Joel Votaw, and drummer/engineer, Jesse Sprinkle of Poor Old Lu, Shawn Johnson and Sydney Rentz have just released their fourth album, Tiny Lights of Heaven. It's a co-release from Winnepeg's Endearing Records and Ohio's Big Beef Records. The bands previous three albums were released on Tooth and Nail.
Veterans of the indie-pop scene, they have somehow managed to fly under the radar. They have spent their career perfecting a sound that most bands in their genre have allowed to become dated. MoFo has managed to reemerge with an expanded approach to writing charming subdued pop songs. The key to their longevity is their consistent ability to reinvent themselves with each of their four releases. They've ranged from heavily distorted noise pop to syrupy sweet pop songs to a quirky new wave influence. Bits and pieces of each are still there, but Tiny Lights of Heaven is in more true pop form.
Morella's Forest is still quirky, noisepop with a positive, upbeat approach to life. They have the charm of nineties girl fronted pop bands, Belly and the Juliana Hatfield 3, with the more modern playfulness of The Cardigans. Sydney Rentz's soft voice is at times reminiscent of Ivy and the much missed Minneapolis band, February. Her hushed understated vocals are still beautiful and strong. Her cuteness is not forced, as often happens with female fronted indie-pop but seems to come naturally and easily. She sounds comfortable, which adds to her allure. Rentz sounds better with each MoFo release, and Tiny Lights of Heaven is no exception.
I've always loved the distorted noise Morella's Forest can create, it's less of a focus here but the songs are still driven by guitarist Shawn Johnson and his ability to write catchy pop melodies with a little bit of edginess. This new album is more lo-fi, less polished than their previous recordings but it accompanies Sydney's soft, quiet vocals perfectly.
There are several songs on this album that could easily be hits, but the lo-fi aspect of the production is too much of a selling point to this album to let it go just to appeal to the masses. Ironically, I think you can credit their endurance to their lack of fan fare. So many female fronted pop bands have been quickly embraced by the mainstream only to be dismissed when the next big thing comes along. Despite the indie feel, track two, "Shining Stars", was already featured on an episode of "Dawson's Creek".
Tiny Lights of Heaven is a different kind of comeback album. After ten years, Morella's Forest has shown that they are an indispensable attribute to their genre. They won't give their sound a chance to go stale, as they continue to add new textures they continue to be relevant in a scene where bands are easily forgotten.
- Stephanie Haselman (www.indieworkshop.com)
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