Album: Voice Brother & Sister
Artist: Summer Hymns
Reason Featured: #17 Album for Pitchfork’s Top Twenty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: Mr. Brewer (Cackle, Cackle), Stick Your Tail in the Wind, Half Sick of Shadows, Knock Louder, I Shall Miss Missing You
Their Grades: Pitchfork (8.8/10)
My Grade: 82%
If you like your music wispy, this album’s a great place to set up camp. Voice Brother & Sister is for anyone who’s been haunted by the pleasant ghosts conjured up by Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” Every inch of the instrumentation is breathy and awakening. It’s like first opening your eyes after the sun’s all the way up in the sky but still feeling no rush to get out of bed. This record isn’t a thunderhead demanding your reverential awe nor is it enveloping, cumulous and atmospheric. Instead, these songs float around like cirrus clouds. They come and go, paper thin and without curves or edges, sometimes long, sometimes short, different shapes to different people.
This sort of sound isn’t unique to Summer Hymns. You hear it on The Decemberists’ first record, Castaways and Cutouts, also released in the early years of the new millennium, and in most Flaming Lips and Clientele songs. The giraffes on the album cover look like they’re walking on water, probably because the music contained within makes you feel lighter than air. They come across like a quieter Neutral Milk Hotel (both bands came from Athens, Georgia; the town is most famous for producing The B-52s and R.E.M.), consistent in their gentleness.
Some of the shortest tracks on here are the ones that stick with you the longest. Both “Knock Louder” (an aggressive track if you’re allowing Gandhi to define aggression) and “I Shall Miss Missing You” (a chilled out song if you’ve ever heard one) are less than two minutes long yet both pack some sort of catharsis even within 120 seconds. Hints of Brian Wilson show up on “Half Sick of Shadows” as do the spirits of anyone who pushed melody to the front of their artistic prerogative. It rocks, even though it’s over in two minutes. As far as the ones of more conventional length, “Mr. Brewer (Cackle, Cackle)” boasts a banjo riff which would’ve sounded just as in style on Mutual Benefit’s Love’s Crushing Diamond (2013). The chromatic percussion on “Stick Your Tail in the Wind” situates you in whatever your given happy place may be. The longest track on here, “New Underdressment,” is a bit of lethargic mesmerism, attempting to stay intriguing for seven minutes but losing out on that battle midway though to over-repetition. Basically, Voice Brother & Sister is a soundtrack for daydreams, sometimes interesting, sometimes bizarre and sometimes boring. But such is life.