Hollis – Sound


Dallas may not be currently considered a hotbed of indie rock activity, and Tulsa even less so, but the former boasts Deck Sachse and the latter claims Scott Griffith, the two leading lights of Hollis. As the geographical separation hints, the pair converged only recently after having established themselves separately. Right from the start of their debut, Sound, the marriage seems utterly natural. In most such cases, there is either tension between differing musical impulses (John Lennon and Paul McCartney) or a domination of one over the other (Lou Reed and John Cale, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno), but even with songwriting combinations that mix and match Griffith, Sachse, bassist Jay Blakey, and several other miscellaneous writers, Sound has a fine sense of continuity and purpose.
What the purpose of Hollis is, though, remains subtle throughout Sound. At first listen, they don’t stand out dramatically from any number of other acoustic-heavy folkie groups, but various elements pop out from time to time that help Hollis avoid simplistic categorization. The most striking of these is Griffith’s drumming. Though he sounds muted by Hot Rods or something similar, Griffith stays active enough throughout that he could even be accused of rocking, a rare charge in such a low-volume genre. Second, Hollis as a whole thankfully eschews both of the deadly poles of the mellow strummers, namely vain self-pity and equally vain inspirational singing (also known as I-can’t-figure-out-how-to-live-my-life rock and I’ve-figured-out-how-to-live-my-life-and-everyone-else’s-too rock, respectively). The lyrics are mostly obscured behind a sheen of reverb, but the words that do come through combined with the lyrical delivery itself suggest an admirable modesty. Hollis’ songwriting is simple and unpretentious without being boring and keeps things moving along with understated grace.
Understatement, however, may prove to be Hollis’ great shortcoming. They require more attention than they are likely to get to make the kind of impact they’re capable of, and even though Hollis comes across quite nicely in headphones with nothing competing for attention, they would have a hard time grabbing ears as an opening act or if Sound were playing quietly in a coffeehouse. It’s a shame, of course, and no fault of the band that subtlety in music almost always loses out to ham-fisted vulgarity. It would be nice to see Hollis carve out a comfortable niche for themselves, but the space allotted for music like this seems to be shrinking all the time. They’re worth cheering on, though, and stranger things have happened than a talented band catching a break. So good luck to Hollis, who probably needs some.