It isn’t always easy putting your finger on exactly what it is that makes a song special, but sometimes it’s better not to over-think it. Deep Time sound a little bit like a lot of bands, but not a lot like anyone; there are faint echoes of post-punk outfits like the Slits and Delta 5, as well as any number of female indie vocalists (Polly Harvey, Feist, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier) in the Austin, Texas duo’s prickly, minimalist pop but any actual similarities are tenuous at best. In fact, they don’t even sound that much like their old selves any more: in the year and a bit since Jennifer Moore and Adam Jones released their debut LP as YellowFever – a name they were forced to relinquish following legal threats from some other group that got there first – a small but hugely significant shift towards a slightly darker style of song-writing has pushed Deep Time up a couple of notches into a little league of their own. Whereas their debut took those previously mentioned elements and wrapped them up with a twee-pop bow, here the pair have subtly factored in their more out-there influences, to quite stunning effect. Jones is a big free jazz fan, and his drumming – as musical as it is rhythmic, incorporating chimes, blocks and bells as readily as toms and cymbals – adds as much character as Moore’s choppy, trebly guitar or droning organs, especially on slower, more spacious tracks like “Sgt. Sierra”; vocalist Moore, meanwhile, favours Phillip Glass and Fred Frith, and it’s their disregard for structural and harmonic convention (respectively) that colour the likes of “Clouds” and “Bermuda Triangle” (below), elevating these songs above the scores of average indie bands who think throwing in some tricky time signatures somehow makes their music “avant-garde”. With Deep Time, the overriding impression is that it’s the other way around, that their natural instinct is to start weird and try to corral their sound towards accessibility; excellent as they are, the relatively linear likes of “Coleman” and “Homebody”, with their shuffling, vaguely motorik beats, or the swinging, bluesy “Marathon” are almost tame in comparison to “Gilligan” (Portishead as covered by Young Marble Giants) or the scratchy, nervy closer “Horse”. But this isn’t just music for brainiacs; you don’t need to be au fait with Ella Fitzgerald or Bjork to appreciate Moore’s phrasing, the gaps between syllables that create surprise punch lines (“I’m leaving home and I want you to know/ I’m leaving home and I want you to no…tice”), or the “ooh”s and “ah”s and other vocal tics she uses as punctuation, just as those less than familiar with Max Roach and Jaki Liebezeit can still enjoy Jones’ expressive percussion. But like I said a couple hundred words ago, sometimes it’s better not to over-think it; there’s something here in this wonderful, unassuming record for everyone to enjoy, and I urge you to give it a little bit of your time.
Deep Time is out now on Hardly Art Records