Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Some dream pop invites escapism—prizing texture over melody, mood over message: after all, that’s kind of the nature of dreams, isn’t it? Winnipeg’s Living Hour have clearly mastered the auditory qualities of the genre, but use them to foreground honesty and vulnerability, rather than languid romanticism. Their second album, Softer Faces, then, represents a hyper-present vision of dream pop.
A bittersweet twinkle of guitar interplay highlights lead single “Bottom Step”; lead singer Sam Sarty laments the “highs and lows of the hellos I’ll never know,” describing a missed connection with soft, poetic clarity. The rest of Softer Faces is similarly defined by a longing for romance, but also an unwillingness to suspend realism. “There’s no symmetry / Left between / You and me,” Sarty admits on “Water,” her voice undulating with the pulse of Gil Carroll and Adam Soloway’s ever-interlocked guitars. “I Sink I Sink,” driven by vocal rounds between Sarty, Soloway, and bassist Brett Ticzon, even skews a bit meta, considering Living Hour’s blend of fantasy sonics and clear-eyed commentary: “Stand still with me like they do on TV / What do you think of reality?”
The band’s assisted by veteran producer Kurt Feldman (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Chairlift, No Joy, DIIV), who ensures that each and every guitar and keyboard tone on Softer Faces sparkles and breathes with warmth. But just like the album’s lyrical content, Living Hour’s instrumental choices are what really keeps their music free of clichés. Horns, played by Sarty and drummer Alex Chochinov, add a Sufjan Stevens-style brightness to most tracks, counteracting the gauziness but not entirely cancelling it out. Other left turns, like tricky grooves (“Before You Leave”), Talk Talk-esque ambience (“Most”), and a surprisingly doomy centerpiece (“No Past”) make Softer Faces a dynamic listen that nevertheless retains a consistent feel.
Living Hour’s alterations of genre tropes are unorthodox but unassuming; the buoyant horns fit comfortably within the sound. Sarty’s voice is pretty enough for her heaviest lyrics to slip by a distracted listener. Softer Faces is easy to enjoy immediately and superficially, but listen more closely, and it’ll surprise you with its depth.