I’m not projecting twee-ness onto Big Baby just because they make pillow-soft music that wouldn’t startle a mouse. Whether it’s their citing of obscure twee acts like Heavenly and Tiger Trap as influences, or lead singer and guitarist Ali Mislowsky’s confession that despite the poppy nature of her songs she writes most of the lyrics “in tears,” the band embraces the “twee” label. This means their intent is clear: Their music is not aiming for the rafters, but the person sitting on the other end of the bed with a cup of tea. While this muted approach can make for something quaint and comforting, it can also stunt a band’s creativity.
Opener “Not That,” lands gently with chiming guitars and the familiar crunch of a Ratt distortion pedal knobbed down to low. The song is well executed and Mislowsky’s vocals are as energetic as her quiet delivery allows, but it ultimately lacks a standout hook to pull it all together.
The second track, “Lemons,” has an early rock n’ roll feel mixed with an indie rock edge, like a Weezer ballad circa the Blue album. Here co-lead singer, Chris Smith, adds his own hushed vocals to the mix, and they blend well with Mislowsky’s voice. There’s a lullaby quality to this song that’s so dreamily familiar that it fails to leave much of an impression. It does a good job of invoking a sleepy summer day, though.
I know that criticizing a twee group for making subdued music is like taking issue with mild salsa for not having a kick. That said, some mild salsa recipes are better than others. On Sour Patch’s first three songs, Big Baby does a decent impression of their favorite bands but they lack the unorthodox rhythms of Heavenly and the punky twists and turns that distinguish Tiger Trap from other tenderhearted acts.
It’s not until the fourth track, “Rubber Tree,” that Big Baby put a unique stamp on a familiar sound. The song opens with slightly heavier distortion and continues in a minor key. “Everything is temporary/it doesn’t make it less scary. And though the future is unclear/in six months you can disappear,” sings Mislowsky, simply but deftly underlining how we’re all just a hair’s breadth from vanishing or cracking up.
While I certainly understand how turning a chaotic period of one’s life into tightly controlled, sunny pop could be cathartic, the darker textures of “Rubber Tree,” bring some welcome variation to Sour Patch. “Thought it would be better, but I just tried harder,” sings Mislowsky on the nimble, catchy chorus. Anybody who has ever pushed through a difficult time only to find their perseverance unrewarded can relate to the sentiment here. It’s the one instance where you can really feel the frustration and hurt that Mislowsky hints at on the rest of the Sour Patch.
The closing track, “Often,” is a rocker by this band’s standards, with a slight uptick tempo. It’s a sanguine grace note for an EP inundated with disappointment and confusion. “I’m lucky to know you and everyone who loves me,” concludes Mislowsky, the clouds parting, the brightness earned. It’s an affirming, lovely ending that justifies the gentle glide of its arrangement.
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Listen to “Not That” below: