Five songs and I was convinced. With the release of the excellent EP Raised By Wolves at the tail end of 2005, Austin’s Voxtrot presented themselves as one of the most brightly glimmering hopes for the coming year. Underneath the literate musings of frontman Ramesh Srivastava, the Texan five-piece offered a near-flawless set of Britpop inspired indie rock that was too complex to be considered “garage rock,” too heavy to be called “twee.” Yet their melodies belie an air of youthful glee and lo-fi charm that often found them compared to The Smiths, Belle & Sebastian and the Lucksmiths. Though Wolves was merely a brief glimpse into the future of such an impressive young talent, it held its own as a standup release and I, personally, couldn’t stop listening to it, particularly the soaring closer “Wrecking Force,” which, I think we should get this out of the way, is actually the most impressive song on the disc, not the least.
I could have been handed Wolves, left it at that and been happy. But only six months later, Voxtrot offers yet another five song EP, one slightly crisper in production, a bit louder, even, and with a more cohesive flow from beginning to end. While Wolves came close to being perfect, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters and Wives actually is perfect.
The progression from one EP to the next seems natural, perhaps even somewhat advanced, as Mothers reveals itself in time to be the more confident in the two, not just in the performance and the musical craft, but in Srivastava’s lyrics as well. He exudes an air of authority, suggesting “one day you will learn that there is beauty in the thing that makes you sweat” on “Fast Asleep” and warning “if you see this world as cruel and thin/you’ll be cruel to the touch and lose the body you’re in/to a world of angry soil” on the title track. But even the confidence can’t hide the anxiety and longing of the band’s previous release, particularly on the woeful “Four Long Days” and “Soft & Warm,” which curiously matches the bounciest of melodies with regretful lines like “baby I’d leave you for the person you used to be.” Through each high or low, Srivastava projects so sweetly and in such a likeable manner, that you can’t help but feel what he’s feeling. But even at his lowest, he’s still charming enough to pay for the round and tell his sorrowful tale with a smile.
Mothers also carries denser arrangements, sonically speaking, moving further away from the simpler indie pop sounds of “The Start of Something” and toward a much larger sound altogether. Each song is meticulously crafted, building layer upon layer and shifting from one section to another like clockwork, each on revealing countless moments of pure, joyful melodic bliss. From the raveup chorus of “Fast Asleep” to the multiple-part chorus of “Rise Up in the Dirt” to the subdued Rhodes intro to “Soft & Warm” to the soaring guitar leads on the title track, everything is utilized to the fullest, every tiny piece an essential part of the overall equation. And though Voxtrot are certainly no strangers to the verse-chorus-verse song structure, they find verses within choruses, codas within bridges, and every four minute song becomes epic without sacrificing the brevity of a pop song.
Possibly due to the conveniently short running time of Mothers, I’ve listened to it a few dozen times, and I love it just a little more each time. And, in perspective, that they’ve made such a fine recording with only five tracks might suggest that they could do exponential damage with the expanse of a full-length. Though, should you care to combine their two EPs into one ten song playlist, it makes for one hell of a record, one that will make do for repeated listening while we wait for that first album.
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.