The first time I heard Call and Response was in the fall of 2001. I had been deejaying at San Diego State University radio station KCR for two semesters, and was finally past the point of having to rely on my own personal record collection for inspiration. I wasn’t afraid of the vast library KCR had to offer, but I also wasn’t familiar with a great majority of it. Always in search of new, interesting things to play, I stuck mostly to the recent additions, playing songs with the most eye-catching titles. As a means of finding new favorites, this technique was less than scientific. But on occasion, it resulted in a satisfying new discovery.
One such afternoon, I picked up Call and Response’s self-titled debut and played “California Floating in Space.” To me, they sounded like an American Stereolab, all simple moog and guitar melodies, with just the slightest hint of jazz influence. But the lyrics were what set the San Francisco band apart from their British contemporaries. Rather than spout Marxist propaganda, vocalist Carrie Clough stuck to simpler, sillier ideas, like her home state being sucked into orbit or blowing bubbles or rollerskating. The fun, innocent vibe of the band was enough to keep me rotating their CD in my weekly playlist.
When I heard that the Bay Area fivesome were releasing a new album, I assumed that Winds Take No Shape would be more of the same lighthearted fluff. Boy was I in for a surprise. Though the melodies are still pretty and pleasant, the silliness has been all but abandoned in favor of a more serious, musical approach. Clough’s vocal style hasn’t changed much — she still bears a strong resemblance to Laetitia Sadier. But the lyrical content has been drastically altered. The ruminations on rollerskates have been traded in for lines like “You can’t cry/When you’re trapped under ice/And the shadows play/Tricks on your eyes.”
Musically, the jazz element has been stepped up. Though most jazz-influenced pop bands inevitably get compared to Steely Dan, there’s nary a hint of Fagen or Becker to be found on Winds Take No Shape. Call and Response seems to share more in common with jazz-influenced indie pop groups like The Sea and Cake. The guitar melody in “Colors Bleed” is melancholy and haunting, but ethereal enough to sound pleasant and accessible. “Eclipse” has some nice vocal harmonies and “Silent Chill” is breezy and catchy, the perfect soundtrack for a summer cocktail on the porch.
Call and Response haven’t gone “lite,” despite what this description might suggest. Though their music may be slightly quieter and more straight-faced, they’re moving forward as a band, proving that you don’t have to be getting on in your career to be maturing as a songwriter.
Seely – Seconds
The Sea and Cake – Oui
Stereolab – Mars Audiac Quintet
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.