HOVVDY – ” The Albums “

Posted: June 4, 2022 in MUSIC

Hovvdy never really seem in a hurry to go anywhere fast. Since 2014, the Austin duo of Will Taylor and Charlie Martin has made frill-free rock music on a shoestring budget—they’ve shouted out both the convenience and happily strange compression that comes from recording songs in their iPhone voice memos—that centered on repetition and spacey simplicity. They make quiet compositions that plumb the cavernous depths of romantic and existential disillusionment with little more than some fuzzy guitar strums as accompaniment, but to hear them tell it, that started out of necessity rather than design.

There’s an unnamable edge to memory, an agitating pleasure in reviving the thorniest parts of our past. To remember what’s painful, or banal, is to protect against the slog of the mundanity of growing up. It’s within this blurry psychological terrain that indie-pop duo Hovvdy thrive. Austin Texas duo Will Taylor and Charlie Martin sing longingly of what’s lost and what remains, of the small moments that can epitomize a life: driving alongside your significant other in silence, watching YouTube videos in bed, playing catch with your friends in the front yard. This may sound like typical indie-rock adolescent fetishizing, but the candid reflexivity in Hovvdy’s songwriting and instrumentation guards against oversentimentality. They’re not stuck in the past; they’re moving forward, craning their necks back to see what’s been left behind.

Taylor relayed a brief anecdote about his friendship with Martin. “One time we got lost in the woods and had to stick together to make it out,” he said. “It ended up being really fun. That’s pretty close to how things are with us always.” That kind of relationship, where a potentially terrifying mishap turns into a fond memory thanks to mutual support and a shared sense of playfulness, drives Hovvdy’s songwriting ethos. They don’t panic when they lose sight of the path; they just keep going, sure that whatever happens, they’ll remember it well.

True Love

On their fourth album, “True Love”, Taylor and Martin tame the tremors of youth by embracing their adult commitments. “Even though it’s hard to/I will surely move along,” goes a line on the album’s opener, “Sometimes,” summoning a mantra I’ve likely employed a dozen times over the last year. On “One Bottle,” Taylor laments the distance he feels from his partner while he’s on the road: “If it rings you know it’s me/Talking, words can’t tell you how I miss you.” Even when Hovvdy root into the present, the memory of easier times infects their experience, staining the songs with sanguine ambience. “True Love” doesn’t so much shirk nostalgia as re-contextualize it, transfiguring well-worn memories from longings into lessons.

In a departure from the lo-fi minimalism of 2016’s “Taster” and 2018’s “Cranberry”, “True Love” flaunts a more dappled and spirited production, an enthusiastic verve also heard sporadically on 2019’s “Heavy Lifter”. Co-produced and engineered by Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Bon Iver), “True Love” is full of joyful piano and bright acoustic guitars, a soundscape as crisp and lush as a beer on a late summer’s night.

Hovvdy use these warm backdrops as canvases to explore personal growth. “Hue,” an ode to Taylor’s new-born daughter, revels in the insecurity of parenthood: “Am I strong enough for two?/Can I love me like I love you?” On “I Never Wanna Make You Sad,” Martin tries to “lift up” his partner from the depths of his own low. In Hovvdy’s world, vulnerability is cherished and honesty is paramount, though a refrain of “we’ll be alright” or “I love you so much” usually resolves any lingering tension.

On “True Love“, generalization occasionally replaces emotional acuity; sing-along hooks substitute for more daring forays into sound or subject. And while Taylor and Martin’s earworm melodies and vocal charisma are satisfying, the record’s resolutory definitiveness sacrifices the delightful ambiguity found throughout their catalogue.

released October 1st, 2021

Heavy Lifter

Heavy Lifter, the third album by Austin “pillow core” project Hovvdy, suspended in the moment between first discovery of love and first brush with heartbreak. Will Taylor and Charlie Martin dig through the detritus of youth with frank empathy for the people they used to be. They sing of leaving a small town and “moving to the coast” as though it’s the solution to their problems, and not another problem waiting to happen. They sing to a “friend” they’d clearly like to be more than a friend.

“Cathedral,” the record’s lead single and best song, finds emancipating joy in the realization that it is “brighter than before, outside” of a repressive church. The song begins in a pew, bent into a posture of prayer; it ends with the cathedral’s doors flung open. Vowing on the chorus to “never come back here” and instead “stay with our friends,” Taylor and Martin repeat the words in a kind of ecstatic chant. “Feel Tall” makes literal the personal growth that first love can inspire: “Any little thing you want, any little thing at all/Want to make you feel tall.” On “Watergun,” expressions of devotion tilt from the naive proclamations of a little kid toward a newfound, grown-up understanding of love as an act of service. A promise to “gladly dry the dishes” lands with exceptional poignancy.

What distinguishes this record is the sparkling optimism Hovvdy carry with them. They don’t long to escape, but to accept the good with the bad. Hopeful energy thrums through cuts like “Keep It Up” and “Mr. Lee,” which mine mundanity for joy. The album is not without grey moments of post-adolescent malaise—particularly the devastating “Pixie”—but Hovvdy veer away from self-destruction, instead homing in on connection and intimacy.

These songs are grand, inviting backdrops. This is the record’s greatest strength, and also where it stumbles. Hovvdy remind me of many artists I’ve loved, But with the exception of a few skittering, programmed drums, they don’t innovate on the sound of last decade’s indie pop as much as imitate it. The lack of specificity in their song writing means that they never quite eclipse their influences.

But the real gut punch arrives at the record’s end, in the final verse of “Sudbury.” As the singer dreams of graduating from “front yard catch” to the Texas Rangers, he recites the street address of a childhood home. That house, and the patch of yellow-green grass that made sports stardom feel possible, couldn’t belong to anyone else. Taylor and Martin are at their finest here, trading the ubiquitous for the unique, declaring who they were and who they wished to be.

released October 18th, 2019


If there’s anything you’re nostalgic for, Hovvdy’s second album, “Cranberry”, is likely to dredge it up. It’s not that the Austin duo invokes a particular time or place—Will Taylor and Charlie Martin aren’t revivalists, and they don’t seem to hold any sentiment for a mythical teenhood. It’s more that their music simulates the mysterious function of memory itself. Foggy, warm, and wistful, it sounds like faded time. With two drummers who now take up the guitar and synthesizer as needed, Hovvdy share an instinctual melodic sensibility, While their debut, 2016’s “Taster“, itched a little with a distortion-shrouded anxiety, sounding occasionally like Weezer , “Cranberry” focuses the act’s emotional palette to a steady, gentle longing. Hovvdy sound surer of themselves than before, and that confidence gives them more room to be vulnerable.

“Yesterday I woke up outside/Saw you for the very first time,” goes the album’s opening couplet on “Brave,” conjuring up the delightfully surreal image of someone coming to in a clearing and falling for the first stranger they see. On “Truck,” Hovvdy build a swaying chorus out of a little self-effacement: “If there’s trouble, I will run from it/All the time.” It’s a little strange: Here’s a song about shirking responsibility, and maybe feeling guilty about your failure to be there for someone else, and yet the vocals fall over the guitars as gently as ash from a distant forest fire. Hovvdy pull this trick a lot. They write lyrics that hint at some kind of danger or urgency, then sing them as languidly as possible. That dissonance gives their songs a magnetic pull: You’ll want to go back to them to see what you’ve missed, to try to read more deeply between the lines.

A similar ambiguity hovers around the album’s instrumentation. “Truck” weaves slide guitars into the mix so subtly they barely register on the first few listens, and the relatively upbeat “In the Sun” boasts a flute sound that definitely came from a keyboard but at points could almost pass for the real thing. On “Float,” the repeating sound of a cymbal bleeds into the song’s grain; “Thru” confuses guitars and synthesizers so readily it’s difficult to tell where the strum of an electric six-string ends and the wash of a digital instrument begins. All the details another band might tease out, Hovvdy subsume into their music’s overall texture.

released February 9th, 2018


Both Taylor and Martin were drummers before Hovvdy, and neither has been playing guitar all that long, which they’ve said has made their instrumentals naturally “minimal.” But after an EP and a split with the similarly minded Austin band Loafer, they’ve figured out how to make those limitations work to their advantage. Their debut album “Taster” reissued in remastered form by beloved Brooklyn indie rock label Double Double Whammy—rarely accelerates past a snail’s pace, but the interlocking pieces are deceptively complex. they stack simple riffs in idiosyncratic ways, and in the process put together 11 songs that are far more compelling than the sum of their parts.

That’s perhaps most evident on “Can’t Wait,” one of the record’s more straightforwardly catchy moments, which weaves together at least three loosely interlocking guitar riffs over the course of its three minutes. Played by a different band, it’d feel like a rip of Weezer’s across-the-sea balladry, but Hovvdy’s take is a little more austere. A lazily drawled acoustic guitar and a barely on-beat lead make the scuzzy main riff feel a little dizzier than it would otherwise. Piling uncomplicated parts on one another until it resembles something like a pop song is a surprisingly sophisticated trick—and one they’re able to keenly repeat throughout “Taster“. Each song seems like it should topple over under its own weight, but it never does.

Lyrically, the record revels in the overwhelming confusion and regret bound up in interpersonal relations. “In My Head” tells a surreal tale of romantic pining, describing scenes in small jagged snippets, like a conversation that takes place “on the gulf in that screened-in room.” On “Try Hard,” they perform a clever autopsy of the failures of a past relationship (“You could not call your dad back then/Forgot his name again/I never did try hard”). It’s relatively standard stuff for this sort of downcast rock music, but the beauty is in its lack of resolution. All conflicts remain unsolved there are only events, no answers.

Taylor and Martin have jokingly referred to their music as “pillow core” over the years, which is fitting for “Taster” both in its downy sonics and fragmented lyricism. As they flit through various half memories and upsetting realizations, it feels like the thoughts that spin through your head as you lie in bed late at night, waiting for sleep to overtake you.

‘Taster’ April 15th, 2016

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