Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Still House Plants If I don’t make it, I love u


Listening to Still House Plants can feel like witnessing a song come together in real time. Years ago, the UK-based trio would open sets with “Pleasures,” a track from their landmark 2020 album Fast Edit, by having drummer David Kennedy’s kit all over the stage. Once he set everything up, it would cue the band to start the next song. To begin their concerts like this was a symbol of the band’s driving force; they write music, first and foremost, as a group of best friends who trust each other, and their tracks are a way to challenge themselves, to grow through communication, and to push through life’s difficulties.

Their uncompromising music has an uncanny way of reflecting these goals. Throughout their decade-long existence, Still House Plants have recalled acts from the turn of the millennium who bridged noise rock, emo, slowcore, post-rock, and free improvisation. Specifically, they sound like a midpoint between Storm & Stress, Polvo, and Dilute, but Jess Hickie-Kallenbach’s R&B-inspired vocals bring their work into a different realm. “Will I see you again” she gently sings across “The House Sound Of Chicago,” a highlight from the group’s 2016 debut EP. It feels like the bittersweet aftermath of a breakup, and the song’s guitar riff and shuffling drum beat are, above all, a comfort — the song is neither bracing like Codeine, nor meticulous like Faraquet. “It felt like a radical, punk thing to play really sincere and quietly,” guitarist Finlay Clark told me four years ago.

Still House Plants’ newest LP, If I don’t make it, I love u, finds the group aiming for a more robust sound. Take “no sleep deep risk,” which begins with plucked guitar notes wading around at a relaxed pace. Kennedy’s snare drum starts rustling like the ocean, and then he ushers in a faster beat. During all this, Hickie-Kallenbach repeatedly wails, “Deeply sensitive, deeply watchful.” The words gain weight every time she sings them, and when she eventually says “I really like it my way,” it sounds like she is coming to terms with her stubbornness and insecurity. Notably, this isn’t a downer anthem in the style of Bluetile Lounge or Red House Painters or Low; the band increases the tempo, and there is an uneasiness to how Clark’s guitar melodies accelerate and spiral. They’re searching for release.

How they find that, exactly, can be heard in Hickie-Kallenbach’s candor. Her voice can sound like the torturous overthinking that plagues restless nights, but also the disarming confessions of a heart-to-heart. She channels both on “M M M,” where she quietly murmurs as guitar strums continuously pan. The drums then kick into higher gear, and she’s off doing her characteristic arching vocal melodies, singing, “I just want my friends to get me, I just want to be seen right.” There are a slew of rock bands who would capture such anxiety through zigzagging melodies or abrupt chord changes, but Clark and Kennedy create a wall of noise for her to live inside. When their playing shifts into a slippery groove, it sounds like she is contending with her worries in the real world, away from the comforts of a bedroom where one can wallow in depression.

She eventually finds joy on “Sticky,” a tremendous showcase of the band’s cohesion. Hickie-Kallenbach frequently sings “loving,” repeating it so much that it sounds like she’s exploring what it really means to do just that. She will sometimes say it and the word “lumping” sweetly, stretching them out with a pretty melody, but it is only when the band members start intertwining that you understand how she feels. The guitar circles around the drums, Kennedy throws in quick new beats, and Hickie-Kallenbach emerges from the sound with phrases like “hearts turn sticky” and “fever and pumping.” Still House Plants have had love songs in the past, such as 2018’s “You OK,” but they have never sounded this sumptuous or sensual. You can envision limbs wrapping around one another, of fingers running across a lover’s spine, of feeling your heartbeat racing. Amidst all this tasteful clamor is an equal sense of uncertainty and ecstasy: a navigation of intimacy one bold, imperfect step at a time.

Still House Plants’ music is assured in the same way: loose in its planning, but confident that things will work out. You can hear that throughout “MORE BOY,” which begins as a graceful slowcore track before changing pace with whirring guitar chords. There is an obvious dynamic at play between the soft and loud, the slow and fast, but the band never wants for these differences to be the main draw — these elements are just gradually shifting parts of a greater whole. Such fluid evolutions embody the group’s approach to playing. “We look at each other and we know how to get to the next bit. It’s communicated and shared in a way that’s more external than a metric count,” Hickie-Kallenbach recently told the Quietus. Their music is the result of instinctual interdependence.

The most essential tenet of Still House Plants’ musical philosophy is that no individual member has a designated role. They may play a specific instrument, but they do not succumb to typical songwriting strategies. “It’s natural to think that the voice sits at the front, the drums drive, and the guitar is like the bricks, but we move all that around quite a lot,” Hickie-Kallenbach has said. The guitar’s noisy clanging is what propels songs like “Pant” and “Headlight” forward, and the post-production on “Silver grit passes thru my teeth” blurs the line between each instrument’s utility — there are passages when the guitar melody will mirror Hickie Kallenbach’s vocals, like the two are sharing a duet, but it later takes on a percussive role alongside the drums.

When I saw Still House Plants in Boston last year, the members often had their eyes closed. They were, at all points, incredibly locked into the songs they were playing, only occasionally opening their eyes to feel out how to proceed. It was arresting how, despite the frequency with which they play a single phrase, that there was a relaxed nature to everything they do — a sort of self-effacing math rock. Every note, too, felt essential. You can sense that across If I don’t make it’s two closing tracks. “Pushed” is gloriously ugly; it sounds like every member is playing or singing independently before coming together at the song’s close. “More More Faster” is more straightforward, building up to a riotous climax before Hickie-Kallenbach is left on her own, singing “Charging fully forward, I can see forgiveness.” It takes a lot of unwieldy deliveries of that line before she can sing it warmly. And it is in these closing moments that Still House Plants’ ethos becomes clear: There is a beauty to sticking with something (the same riff, beat, or melody) or someone (a partner, your bandmates, yourself) for a long time. Doing so leads to unexpected breakthroughs.

If I don’t make it, I love u is out 4/12 on Bison.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Future & Metro Boomin’s WE STILL DON’T TRUST YOU
• Maggie Rogers’ Don’t Forget Me
• Girl In Red’s I’m Doing It Again Baby!
• METZ’s Up On Gravity Hill
• Shabaka’s Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace
• English Teacher’s This Could Be Texas
• Gustaf’s Package Pt. 2
• Mark Knopfler’s One Deep River
• Water Damage’s In E
• Sunburned Hand Of The Man’s Nimbus
• James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg’s All Gist
• Bad Bad Hats’ Bad Bad Hats
• Hour’s Ease The Work
• Replicant’s Infinite Mortality
• Blue Öyster Cult’s Ghost Stories
• The Reds, Pinks & Purples’ Unwishing Well
• Jebediah’s Oiks
• Riot V’s Mean Streets
• Bodega’s Our Brand Could Be Yr Life
• Agent blå’s STAB!
• Phil Manzanera’s Revolución To Roxy
• Lizz Wright’s Shadow
• Meshell Ndegeocello’s Red Hot & Ra: The Magic City
• Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Stellar Evolution
• Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties’ In Lieu Of Flowers
• Louisa Stancioff’s When We Were Looking
• Kira McSpice’s The Compartmentalization Of Decay
• Jakobs Castle’s Enter: The Castle
• Cosmo Sheldrake’s Eye To The Ear
• sleepsmakeswaves’ It’s Here, But I Have No Names For It
• The Ballroom Thieves’ Springdust
• Melts’ Field Theory
• Blue Bendy’s So Medieval
• Minor Moon’s The Light Up Waltz
• Castle Rat’s Into The Realm
• Alice Randall’s My Black Country
• Trummors’ 5
• Humbird’s Right On
• Love Sex Machine’s Trve
• Birdfeeder’s Woodstock
• Blunt Chunks’ The Butterfly Myth
• Rejoicer’s This Is Reasonable
• Elizabeth King’s Soul Provider
• Clarissa Connelly’s World Of Work
• Kharma’s A World Of Our Own
• Necrot’s Lifeless Birth
• Max McNown’s Wandering
• Nicolette & The Nobodies’ The Long Way
• Heavenly Blue’s We Have The Answer
• Dog Date’s Zinger
• 9T Antiope’s Horror Vacui
• Alec Goldfarb’s Fire Lapping At The Creek
• Ross Valory’s All Of The Above
• Sarah Julia’s How Do We Go Back To Being Normal?
• The Red Pears’ Better Late Than Never
• Bridget Kearney’s Comeback Kid
• BELMONT’s Liminal
• Avalanche Kaito’s Talitakum
• Jess Ribeiro’s Summer Of Love
• OWN ROAD’s Year Of The Dog
• Low End Activist’s Airdrop
• The Amy Winehouse biopic soundtrack Back To Black: Songs From The Original Motion Picture
• Linkin Park’s Papercuts (Singles Collection 2000-2023)
• The Ophelias’ Ribbon EP
• Toledo’s Popped Heart EP
• Jade Bird’s Burn The Hard Drive EP
• Tariq Al-Sabir’s Unlike Yesterday Today I’m Ready EP
• Greyhaven’s Stereo Grief EP
• BLEID’s Aerosol EP

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