OUT – Billie

5 out of 5

Label: Comedy Minus One

Produced by: Mike Roche

Guided by Voices had / have the sloppy but catchy bit covered; Spoon have the poppy version; Silkworm did workman, hard-edged blues. These groups rather owned a particular corner of “regular” rock within the indie world, but when reviewing current / new acts, I don’t see anyone really claiming the updated versions of those crowns, or making bids for some other corner. Yes, there have been some great rock albums, but the groups come and go, or change tactics; the above-mentioned examples – and I’m sure there are others – plied their trade for years, always able to innovate, but also always identifiable by a certain sound. For a while, I might’ve said The Thermals were on their way to something, but their punk angle ultimately felt rather limiting, not to mention hammering on similar themes and sounds album after album.

Two albums in with Billie, I’m feeling like OUT could be onto something, here. Their debut was already impressive, nibbing from the rawness of the Silkworm playbook, but infusing it with their own energy, and attitude, bopping through all of the above-mentioned names (Thermals’ three-chord fun included), without sounding either derivative or like they were trying too hard to, y’know, not sound derivative.

And Billie is a step up in all regards, but it doesn’t cancel the fun of their debut; it’s a slightly different vibe is all: a maturity of sound that allows the comparative “innocence” of that debut to feel timeless. Working again with producer Mike Roche, the richness and power of OUT’s sound extends across all aspects: soaring, emotive vocals; grinding guitars; a heavy, smooth bassline; and a clatter of percussion. Lyrically, Chafe Hensley absolutely delivers, cutting through modern day concerns that are told in precise, but not decisive phrases – allowing room for our own feelings – and then giving us some time to just chuckle (the short, 2-minute burst of Wrestle, pretty much just asking “Will you wrestle with me?”), or somehow offering, like, the only non-sappy, relatable love song about marriage and kids I’ve ever heard. This mindfulness of balance is in the music as well, which isn’t afraid to go heavy with the riffs and shouts, but sprinkles in some more laidback affairs (Still Talking Wrong) and quirk (Rashomon) as well.

One album of this was notable; two albums of it – that are both distinct, and both equally excellent in their own ways but also both sound very clearly like the same band – that gets me damned excited for what else is to come. But even if OUT don’t drop another ten discs to claim whichever crown, I’ve had these releases on repeat for long enough to prove out their long-lasting value, and to stand by Billie as one of the best rock albums I’ve heard, and that can go toe-to-toe with the bests of all them luminaries.