On their third release and second full-length, the Rochester musicians in Hinkley offer a brilliant album of perfectly produced, stylistically diverse pop music that is sure to find widespread appreciation if given the opportunity. If every city has its band of hard-working artists who cause locals to scratch their heads over why the band hasn’t reached worldwide acclaim, Hinkley is Rochester’s act. Almost an all-star cast of local talent – now with singer/songwriter Gregory Paul on guitar and backing vocals – Hinkley has proved with stellar live shows and the release of Estate Sale that there’s no justice in musical popularity.
Mixed in part by Adam Lasus (it-band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Yo La Tengo), Estate Sale shows the band’s penchant for diverse pop styles, adding melancholy country-tinged ballads to upbeat and insanely catchy pop songs. There’s hints of acts from Neutral Milk Hotel and Guided By Voices to Sparklehorse and Clem Snide, and what makes this album work is how well those styles mix. It doesn’t hurt that the five- or six-member line-up is present in each song, with stellar recording allowing even the most subtle of instrumentation to shine, while the focus still remains on frontman Will Veeder’s vocals and the band’s three-guitar approach.
The album opens with the softly strummed country-tinged melancholy of “Hanging Tree,” featuring hints of keys and harmonica to back up Veeder’s emotive vocals and guitar. It leads into one of the band’s most memorably catchy songs, the surprisingly pretty for being so upbeat “Casino,” which bounces along happily along with backing vocals by Stacey Ackerman. From there, the album does a nice job of mixing the slower, more melancholy ballads and the upbeat, catchy pop songs. “Party on the Sun” is a pretty song, with gently picked guitars and a country-styled rhythm, while it’s followed by the can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head “Ballerina,” one of those toe-tapping, head-bobbing pop songs that stick with you for weeks. Local artist Darren Dewispelaere (Veluxe) adds trumpet to the mix for a nice touch.
There’s a few timeless songs here that are sure to end up on some mix CDs. “Where the River Meets the Sea” feels like a timeless country/folk song given a more modern rock approach. “Mary Lincoln” is a pleasantly mid-tempo track, poppy but also nicely restrained and rich with deep bass, piano, and sweet backing vocals. Then you have the brilliantly up-beat and rocking “Build Me Something in the Sky,” filled with edgy guitars and a fast beat contrasted with a sweet chorus. It’s like a cross between Polyphonic Spree and Built to Spill, perhaps. The up-tempo “She Loves the Sun” takes a similar approach for perhaps the most rocking track on the album. And one of the album’s most memorable moments is the glorious “Horse of the Wood,” featuring gorgeous, booming drums, the album’s best vocals, and a deeply emotional feel. That being said, my favorite track here is “Memory in My Heart,” a staple of the band’s live shows, which is incredibly rich in sound and perhaps the band’s most catchy song yet. Even the “ooo-eee-ooo-eee-ooo” from backing vocals feels fitting to this sweet and bouncy pop song, which has surprisingly edgy guitars for being so poppy.
Previous Hinkley releases and incredible live shows convinced me that Estate Sale couldn’t live up to my expectations. I was wrong. This album has been on near constant rotation in my collection, and each listen gives me a new favorite song to hit replay or move into a new playlist. The band spent more than a year working on this release, and it’s evident in the recording quality, the tracking, and the perfect songwriting. This one’s sure to hold a high spot on my best-of lists for 2006, and I couldn’t recommend it any higher.