4 out of 5
Produced by: Steven Hall
I don’t know how or why, exactly, but there is something absolutely identifiable about the Texas indie rock sound – the clean guitars, the lilting vocals, the tight percussive interplay. I mean, maybe it’s due to Paul A. Newman having been involved with a lot of the groups that come to mind, or maybe it’s that my main exposure was through the Texas-based SixGunLover label, but regardless: Texas indie rock – according to my tunnel vision, it’s a thing. And Rhythm of Black Lines do that thing.
In their earliest recorded incarnation, the group is a half-step between instrumental and a vocal group, with Clint Newsom poking through with his lilting vocals here and there, but he hasn’t quite figured out how to blend his off-keyness with the group’s post-rock pop, making the songs where it starts out looser – opener Pistols In The Piano, A Clever Path – exactly that: comparatively loose. But once some gutsier guitar and a strong beat kicks in, Newsom (assisted by some gang vocals) finds his pitch and the songs take off. This is nice once you’re used to it, as it’s part of the songs’ buildups in general, but it also makes his singing feel a bit dispensable.
That said, ROBL are as tight-knit as any other time-signature-a’changin’ indie rockers, and more consistent, stylistically, than Paul Newman (the group); instrumentals like Sweet Naess Of The Sun are just perfect, hitting at a run but finding clever and fun ways to add nuance throughout, and everything aligns on closer Zama such that it’s clear that Newsom’s singing can be integral, while the group maintains their fun hooks and clever interplay at the same time.
I’m underselling this: this is some of the catchiest, most engaging – the playing is so clean, and balances between letting hooks ring out and then iterating on them – indie rock there is, and once Newsom’s singing warms up (or when the group is operating in instrumental mode), it’s irrepressibly fun.