Houndsteeth’s debut album Stain Your Tongue is not only a musical exploration, but a personal one. Experimental harmonies and compositions build on the lyrical themes, creating a new, dark yet dreamy, sound.
The first thing you notice while listening to Stain Your Tongue is the tight, intricate harmonies. The album is teeming with them. Houndsteeth, consisting of Grace Ward and Jolee Gordon, allow their voices to intertwine throughout the entire work, playing off each other and building vocal layers over a minimalist composition of experimental pop electronica. The mellow instrumentation, reminiscent of an electro charged RnB interlude, serves as the stage to showcase these harmonies. Smooth bass lines dance with a modern inspired keyboard, mingling beneath the tight vocals. On certain songs this builds and changes- a smattering of drums, an unexpected banjo, and the use of programmed beats add depth, without breaking the focus of the songs.
“Sway//Stay” is the perfect example of this, with the addition of Izzy da Fonesca on drums building a swell while Grace and Jolee’s bubbling vocals come from the depths, small pockets of air forming between the barrage of “I feel you sway/ I feel you stay” sung in a cacophanus repetition, a harmony shattered into pieces, each one catching the listeners ear. The opening song, “Think I Think” goes in another direction – an effused synth inspired keyboard line plays over dreamy bass, as the vocals add more classic, yet playful harmonies. A soft bass solo glides in halfway through the song, a whimsical representation of the lyrical core of the song. “Wasting my time/ I’m wasting my time/ wasting all of my time.” The lyrics throughout this song speak to the young adult experience – the feeling of stagnation, of loneliness, and of uncertainty but, as the break ends, Grace and Jolee move into more experimental vocals, a perfect transition into the next track.
The wistful, longing music adds to the theme of the album, an exploration of life and all of it’s isolation, beauty, sadness, and confusion. Tracks like “R.I.P” musically and lyrically explore situations where there is no right way to respond, situations where you feel alone and confused and don’t know how to react. The eclectic drums that emerge with the line “The man in the room next door is dead” underscore the internal cacophony of the situation.
The album ends with a song about stagnation: “I’ll be here/ stuck in the same old place” but even among these dark moments there is hope. The tight harmonies wind two people together and, even if the other person is as confused as you, there is joy in companionship. It is symbolic that the vocals without harmony here stand out, where one person is left all alone in this complex world.