It’s been almost 2 years to the day since I last spoke of the music of Callers, and the group has certainly kept busy. Not only did the trio become a duo, it also relocated from New Orleans to Brooklyn and then released a split 7” single with Delicate Steve in 2011. The jazz-inflected dream-pop we heard on 2010’s Life of Love still reigns supreme, but Reviver possesses an increased warmth that I find better suited to the band’s talents.
To put it another way, instead of delicate avant-pop that flits and floats about in the ether, Callers pares crisp yacht rock with a few funky grooves – think of it as more Talking Heads and Steely Dan and less of The Church and Bjork. Specifically, the soulful vocals of Sara Lucas embrace your ears with a depth and presence they lacked on the last full-length. Sure, they were still beautiful and bold, but Life of Love dimmed their impact with its cool, sparse arrangement. On Reviver, we find the guitar work of Ryan Seaton more prominent in the mix, and this creates a greater pop immediacy and sonic cohesion between Lucas’ beautiful delivery and the music as a whole.
Granted, there are times when I felt that the band’s exposure to Brooklyn creates conflicts in the album’s flow. With cuts like “Your Finest,” “It’s a Ringer,” and “Howard 2 Hands,” a bland strain of indie-fied psych-pop rears its over-exposed head, as the sound is pushed into Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear copycat territory. It’s not that those songs are bad per se, but only that they’re not very interesting compared with the experimental art-pop of the standout tracks “Heroes,” “Crush Times,” and “Turning.”
Ultimately, I much rather prefer Caller’s uniquely expressive take on torch-song balladry, as opposed to flexing its generic pop chops. We’ve all heard our fair share of zippy, jangly jazz-pop the past few years, so I personally would rather hear those ideas either discarded or pushed into interesting new directions. One half of Reviver is magnificent and resplendent in terms of tone, atmosphere, and execution, where the other half is simply too safe and ordinary. And with a voice like Lucas’ and a grasp of music theory like Seaton’s, this record could have been so much grander.