Well, it’s jaunty. No matter what Houndmouth do, whether it be making songs less than a gram away from The Band’s ‘The Weight’ (‘Penitentiary’), dropping in drugs references with such random abandon it seems less like storytelling and more like they’re trying to get the censor’s rating up above ‘contains infrequent peril’, or just hanging around gently harmonising, they do it with a smile.
‘From The Hills Below The City’ is quite a sunny album. But quite sunny won’t set your hair on fire. Quite sunny is how you describe a forgettable day from last week. The gap between quite sunny and drought causing heatwave is what separates the wheat from the chaff.
So while there’s nothing vastly wrong with ‘From The Hills Below The City’, there’s also nothing vastly right. From the prodding, keep on truckin’ piano of ‘On The Road’, to the end-of-the-hoedown waltz of ‘Palmyra’, you can’t fault the folky charm, but you also can’t escape the endless feeling familiarity with the source material.
As mentioned, The Band crop up frequently - all of the bits of ‘The Weight’ which ‘Penitentiary’ doesn’t reference are covered off in ‘Long As At You’re At Home’ – but its hardly as if the whole melancholic branch of Americana that Houndmouth peddle began and ended with Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm arguing about who wrote what. Recently The Lumineers did it and got an advert for a energy company. Kings Of Leon did it, attached some louder guitars and a U2 sense of bombast and married supermodels. There is nothing new here.
There is the occasion slash of personality in the lyrics: On ‘Penitentiary’ when Matt Myers gleefully exclaims “Couldn’t score a job / So I did the next best thing / And I learned how to rob” it’s delivered with a knowing smirk; you assume the ‘Very Bad Things’ in the Katie Toupin sung ‘Casino (Very Bad Things)’ are going to be somewhere between horse-rustling and moonshining, so turning up and finding her “hooked on freebase” and deriding her fella for not watching the door while she is “doing my lines” is a nice surprise.
The surprises don’t happen enough though. For the occasional flash of colour, the Houndmouth canvas remains somewhat sepia-tinged.