Don’t call this lo-fi. The Babies are composed of the bassist from low-fi folkster Kevin Morby from Woods and the Cassie Ramone from low-fi rockistas Vivian Girls. And The Babies do fall smack-dab in the middle of this simple song/simple lyric trend that’s sweeping the nation (or Brooklyn, at least). So lo-fi? Yeah, maybe. But it’s just not a good description anymore, because now that “lo-fi” has extended to every genre, tonality and level of ambition, it’s become meaningless.
So let’s start over. The Babies play catchy searing pop-rock that cuts through the usual trappings to deliver a hard and lean product that usually succeeds. And when it doesn’t, it’s on the failings of the song itself.
Both singers have perfect indie-warbles that fit the jangle-pop they collectively make. Kevin Morby puts his nasal croon up front, while Cassie Ramone puts on a funny reverb sometimes that sounds suspiciously like another frontwoman of a kitty-loving indie band (particularly on the song “All Things Come To Pass,” which is better than any of her songs). Ramone sings behind the mic, sounding distant and also nasally, whereas Morby hits up the attack. It works, especially when the two trade off vocal duties, like on “Breaking The Law.”
With all the girl-guy singing combo groups lately, the Babies are refreshing in its conspicuous lack of sexual tension. Morby and Ramone might be lovers or something in real life, but they just sound amicable and comfortable here, like two friends used to running in circles around each other for fun.
For garage pop-rock, the Babies’ self-titled debut contains a noticeable amount of thematic and tonal diversity. The acoustic shuffle of “Sick Kid” sounds little like the full and ballooned sound of “Voice Like Thunder,” neither of which sound like the apocalyptic thrust of “Wild 1.”
And truthfully, it’s not even lo-fi. It’s deceptively underproduced, and there’s a fullness of production lying under the veneer of intentional amateurishness. This is Morby and Ramone’s territory, and they know how to work it. The Babies never sounds tinny, or poorly mixed, or under-talented. It’s lo-fi in the same way that Death Cab For Cutie is “indie,” even though Ben Gibbard and Co. are signed to Atlantic.
This is a solid half-hour of garage-y indie rock that is usually catchy, occasionally great, and pretty much always competent. It might be a side project, but it shows the songwriting strengths of Morby and Ramone, and is worth the little time it requires.