Hovvdy, “True Love”
GRAND JURY MUSIC
Hovvdy won me over right away—then again, and again, and again. I’m helpless to the warbling lure of their choruses, putty in the hushed coo of their catchy refrains, feeble to resist the hypnotic whisper of their soporific harmonies. Yet I find myself grasping at straws when trying to pin down precisely why or how they’ve won me over so completely. I don’t know quite where they fit, like when you can’t remember if something is a dream or a memory but either way it’s there, at the base of your skull, fuzzy, loose, and sunken. Perhaps this is the charm, the ambiguity, the generalities of feeling wrapped in specificity, the dream arithmetic. Whatever it is, their new record True Love is the most realized version of Hovvdy yet, a record that finds the duo peeling back the layers of their previous work until they arrive at the essential center, the Hovvdiest Hovvdy of all.
A big part of this realization lies in specifics. The further songwriters Will Taylor and Charlie Martin get from their childhood back in Texas, the better they become at accessing the essential minutiae of their adolescence. “Can’t outrun our history, always coming around again,” sings Taylor on the twilight-tinted “Around Again,” a song that might well hold the very thesis of this record within it’s three-minute runtime. No matter the song, the duo finds comfort in rooting its subjects in precise biographical moments; nights at Lake June, hours spent on a porch swing, crosses on a trailer. 2019’s Heavy Lifter saw hints of this, most notably on the record’s standout single “Cathedral,” but True Love is novelesque in its ability to marry theme with place and time.
Nowhere better is this evinced than on late-album single “Blindsided,” perhaps the best song the band’s ever written. Atop a mesmerizing piano piece, Martin flexes an incredible observational skill. Grainy and tinted, these are memories not accessed so much as bubbling to the surface; bike rides to the Tom Thumb, cold Budweiser in solo cups, Fresh Air, “Everlong.” Popping and bursting as if at random, it all culminates in the poignancy of the chorus—“Could’ve used you in my life, but you were blind, blindsided”—which hints at the kind of absence you can only make sense of by cobbling together specific moments that contradict it.
Sonically, much has been made of Hovvdy’s collaboration with producer Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, and while there are certainly signifiers of this shift—most notably in the use of slide guitar on several of True Love’s best tracks—this maturation feels more internal than external. Hovvdy’s early catalogue is quintessential bedroom pop (sweet but scuzzy, heartfelt but distant), and though they’ve been associated with this sound they’ve continually made moves toward something like True Love, a far cleaner record. Where Hovvdy might have previously wrapped their music in a kind of sonic gauze in an attempt to smooth things over, True Love embraces and thrives in fractured structures. Whether it be on “Blindsided” or the final third of lead single “True Love,” Hovvdy go a long way toward mastering the art of the subtle, layering just enough to hide the cracks without muddying the prettiness at their core.
Given the fact that this might very well be the best version of Hovvdy, I don’t know whether this record will win many converts or simply provide aural catnip to those already on their side. The question of where they go from here is a valid one as well. No band quite sounds like Hovvdy, but I’m not sure that means they can churn songs in the ilk in perpetuity. Alternatively, there’s a world where they iron out all their pillow-core sensibility and become something far more mundane. But all that hand-wringing is a disservice to True Love. It may end up being Hovvdy’s apex, but plenty would kill for such a success.