There’s a lot to like in the Yarrow’s first release, Plum: dreamy, ambling guitar solos and dramatic changes in pitch. The whole album is filled with lush, orchestral transitions, baroque use of the cymbals and driving guitars. In addition, each song has a definite direction: an intro, a bridge, some climax we’re made to feel is the emotional center of the song… Yet it is for this reason, this insistently structured songwriting, that the album comes off more like a persuasive essays than a collection of rock songs: what’s supposed to be climactic is opaque and underwhelming. The best art manipulates the listener subtly, moving us without a laugh track, without sappy orchestrations, without our knowing it. The Yarrows, led by Pierce Backe’s urgent voice, is the violin section swelling up in a tearjerker, only to provoke laughter in the audience, or worse yet, nothing at all.
In Plum, each song is built like the one next door. Whether because of the choice in instrumentation, tempo or vocal style, songs seem cut from the same tree. Furthermore, lead guitarist Pierce Backes’ voice becomes uncomfortably fragile, as if he were trying too hard to sound vulnerable. Because the bands insists in their press release that this is “rock music”, I kept waiting for the album to rock out. There are moments where the songs get louder and the singing more urgent, but these moments are brief. This is unfortunate because the guitarists really seem to know their rock and roll riffs and of course, the structure of a rock song. Just when you think brothers Matt and Pierce are going to bring out the big guns, they pull back and wind down songs with feedback, muffled drums and a predictable progression of major chords. Turns out Plum is really a lemon.