Carny life

Written by: TL on 30/12/2012 00:00:21

As you may have noticed looking at the site these days, is collectively scrambling to squeeze the dying hours of 2012 for as many reviews as we possibly can, including fulfilling our obligations to records that, for one reason or another, have been pushed ahead of us for a while. In my own reviews of those records, you'll often find some vague complaints about lacking songwriting as the main reasons for giving average grades, and while I realise it often sounds like a cop out, it really often is a case of either having it or not having it.

Listen to "Carny Life" by Long Beach quartet Pebaluna for instance: Being an album of eclectic female-fronted indie/pop/rock means it comes at me from really far out of left field (so excuse my poor references.. jeez, another cop out) yet I can pop on any song from it and know instantly that I'm in safe hands. From the first few bars, you simply get the feeling that these people know their handywork, and that their opening moments are always seeds from which a song will grow. They initiate a sort of movement that is compelling to the ear, simple as that.

In return for appearing and aiding my attempt at elaborating an elusive point, I'll introduce "Carny Life" to you as the debut LP from Pebaluna, a moniker covering a constellation driven by Lauren Coleman and Matt Embree, whom some of you may recognise from The Sound Of Animals Fighting and Rx Bandits. The music here could not be much further from either of those bands however. This stuff is laid-back music for grown-ups, completely the polar opposite to the youthful schizophrenia of TSOAF. With one exception that is: Like TSOAF, "Carny Life" also defies categorisation.

What I mean is that while the main elements in Pebaluna's music - acoustic guitar, ukulele, subtle percussion, Coleman's low, soft lead vocals and various male and female backing harmonies - could be labelled bluntly as indie-pop, the band take their sound in many different directions over the course of the album's ten songs. Songs like the quirky, retro-sounding title track or the country ballad "Baby, What's Wrong" both remind me of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's She & Him, while the more sexy, silky rhythms of "No, I Can't" and "Sister Sara" remind me of Jem and the building vocal harmonies of opener "All Falling Down" sends my mind wandering towards The Staves.

In fact the album only throws more curve balls as it progresses, with the sudden energy of the country/billy-ish "Honey" and the groovy Motown of "Hopeless" having me at a complete loss for both references and feeling of coherency. That makes this album's question for me whether its diversity is its strength or its weakness. My answer is I'm not sure. Being a 'short-on-attention' rock guy, I welcome the energy and forthcoming attitude of "Honey" and "Hopeless", yet they feel a bit like excursions from the band's most characteristic sound, and the funk-rock of "Please Me" for instance, comes off borderline annoying to my ears. Eventually I guess I might as well concede complete critical failure and just dumbly pronounce "Carny Life" a cool, characteristic record, suggesting that you listen to the tracks recommended below here and make up your own mind about it.


Download: All Falling Down, Sister Sara, Honey, Hopeless
For The Fans Of: Jem, She & Him, The Staves,

Release Date 12.09.2012

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