Uh Huh Her grows with ‘Nocturnes’ but still loses its way in the dark
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
When Uh Huh Her debuted in 2008 with Common Reaction, the critics noticed. Perhaps one of the more underrated albums of the year, the duo of Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey created a sophisticated track list fusing indie rock and electro-pop into catchy tunes.
It’s a shame they missed the mark on Nocturnes, their second full release, which displays a lot of growth, just all in the same key.
Perhaps if Nocturnes had been a concept album, the 11 tracks would work better — assuming “monotony” was the concept. The first six songs comprise a suite of similar tunes that are rendered forgettably. Where Reaction opened with a distinct attitude, UHH get washed out here, overcome with a blurred production overseen by Grey and Wendy Melvoin of Wendy and Lisa fame.
“Marstorm” appropriately opens the album with a strong set of guitars and racing drums. The ladies have gone a lot harder than before, but the jagged edge of the song rubs the wrong way and Grey’s soft vocals are swallowed by the music going on around her.
Even without a maelstrom of music, Grey’s voice is underwhelming in the intro of “Another Case.” Drummer Josh Kane seems to have been given carte blanche with his beat. He goes full throttle setting the pace of the album, but it’s one that barely relaxes. “Case” and its twin song “Disdain” push deep into the ears but without much substance.
When UHH delve into softer territory, as on “Human Nature,” they fare better. Although “Nature” isn’t that moving, it’s a reprieve from the unappealing sonic onslaught of previous songs.
UHH calm down by their eighth track, “Criminal,” and we finally begin to hear their familiar charm with a new display of complexities in their song structure. Grey’s sounds clearer (not much) and the intended moodiness of the album is in perfect pitch. The album clocks in at 40 minutes, but it takes forever to get to the final stretch which is the best part of Nocturnes. The final four tracks, starting with “Criminal,” immediately elevate the album to a higher plane.
With “Same High,” the texture of the music has subtle but sensuous layers and the minimalist lyrics balance the track exquisitely. The song grows with quietly and is perhaps the most satisfying track.
That said, “Darkness Is” may be the most challenging in all the right ways. The drive of the earlier songs is at the right speed here, forceful but not overpowering, leaving room for the ladies to deliver engaging lyrics like And say hell to the ones who sit on their thrones / And tell everybody to gather their guns and fear what? / Do you really want to let them control you?
Even with a cliché title, final track, “Time Stands Still,” succeeds with its gentleness. The song drifts with an ethereality that recalls, of all bands, Icehouse. “Time” doesn’t play as much as it melts over your ears with sumptuous delivery. Everything that’s right about UHH is marked in this song.
Nocturnes suffers from being top heavy with “Look Ma, I’m writing music” tracks that never provide a memorable experience. Instead, they ultimately drag the album down. Ironically, the final songs display Uh Huh Her at their finest and show a distinct maturity from Reaction, an already smart album. Sophomore slump or not, when the band finds its balance, it should be remarkable.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.