I’m a sucker for “pretty songs,” the kind of tracks that ought to play an ambient second fiddle to a life-affirming moment on Six Feet Under or something. The Soft Hills, hailing from famously-downtrodden Seattle, revel in this sort of musical prayer, slow-burning and measured, tirelessly striving towards the next throat-lump or spine-chill. Admirers of—for example—Fleet Foxes or Grizzly Bear might have arrived looking for exactly that, or perhaps it was a post-rock spirit of experimentation in the context of rootsy, psychedelic familiarity. Chromatisms barks up that tree and comes away with a few lovely songs, if you’re in the mood.
There are many low-tempo builders here, which is definitely conducive to trippy introspection, but not always thrilling. Sometimes they’ll flare up into a maze of washed-out distortion; otherwise, they let the lyrics breathe while folkish ooh’s-and-ah’s harmonize over spits of heady textures here, gently-arpeggiated guitar there. “Horse & Carriage” and “Marigolds” keep the dynamic hushed but feel grand and otherworldly—others, such as the troubled “Dear Mr. Moonlight,” hit and leave behind a crashing peak without much ado. For that reason, the record is better as a straight-through listen, if only to really appreciate all the ground it covers.
The anomalous songs, as well as the most captivating, seem to be the ones driven mostly by sturdy rhythms, like ominous, mountain-sized fuzz folker “Riding High” or the penultimate upswell of “Mighty River.” Meanwhile, “Sweet Louise” comes out of nowhere with a busy bassline, fat riffs, and big, dissonant scrapes of guitar plastered over a refrain (awesome) before slipping into a segment of Beatles-esque melancholy. Despite my confessed lean towards ambient space-outs, such a strong single-type track had me eager for more of the band’s pop angle, but it doesn’t resurface. It makes me wonder if The Soft Hills are just dipping their feet in, despite having a number of releases in the books—they understand the art of bittersweet sound-scaping well, but a couple moments on Chromatisms have those not-so-palpable qualities that make songs unforgettable. Color me curious.