Recorded at Sugar Hill Studios with Steve Christensen, Talk, the debut full-length from Vodi, doesn’t babble or ramble, pontificate or preach, but rather pours you a couple fingers of single-malt scotch, pulls up a chair, and speaks in a mild-mannered way. Because these nine songs are smooth and mellow. They never rock too hard, but always roll along coolly and easily. If Talk were a conversation, it would take place among friends, never halting, never forced.
But the subjects of this conversation wouldn’t be present. When I asked singer/guitarist/lyricist Tom Lynch what the album is about, he said, “Talk was written from a personal perspective on getting past the people in your life that have really left lasting negative impressions on you and your self-worth.”
Talk doesn’t limp from hurtful relationships, though. It grooves and saunters, evoking that stage of post-grief during which happiness has returned, the cuts have closed, and the heart no longer flinches at the once painful memories, from which the mind would retreat and hide. Talk reflects on a difficult time without brooding or souring. In fact, it sounds quite hopeful.
The six-piece establishes this optimistic tone with the inaugural track “Notice,” which opens with a guitar that oscillates between two melodic riffs as drummer Tank Lisenbe pops along on the snare and keyboardists David Lascoe and Austin Sepulvado hold down chords, fuzzy with effects, that buzz softly under it all like cicadas in the Texas heat. Twenty seconds in, Lynch begins to croon, and it doesn’t take long for you to realize that this is a vocalist who always hits the mark. But he does more than sing the right notes at the right time. Lynch channels the import of his words.
For example, in verse one of “Notice,” Lynch warns that “all it takes to knock a man down is a little bit of time,” the word “down” broken by a slight quiver, as if one of those once painful memories, potent again for just a half-moment, had flashed before his mind. Or consider the way he and back-up vocalist/guitarist Haley Lynch deliver the line, “You can talk, talk, talk, but it doesn’t matter anyway,” punctuating “talk” with the same note, expressing, in word and melody, the monotony of his old friends’ perorations. It’s subtleties like these that make Lynch such an effective vocalist and songwriter.
Many of these small but interesting touches are not premeditated. For example, “Talk,” Lynch told me, was written in a burst of inspiration. He sat at his piano and effortlessly cranked out the song in twenty minutes. As Lynch says, “it was one of those ‘felt like I caught it songs.’”
Although Lynch didn’t say how long it took the band to flesh out “Talk” when he brought it to them, the final product also sounds effortless. Lisenbe starts it off with a few solo bars, carrying on with the same cadence when the rest of the band joins in. A gentle guitar melody is repeated as bassist Elton Marshall Graves slides from note to note, letting each one hang. During verse one, Lynch recalls a person or people who would speak as if he were talentless, as if he “never had a shot to take,” thwarting his ego, which the rest of the band seemingly lifts in the chorus when they all jump to a higher register with Lynch, who emphatically stretches out “I,” showing off his range and asserting his sense of self and self-worth, despite those who doubted him. The instruments and vocals thus harmonize, not only musically, but thematically as well. It all meshes together so seamlessly, so naturally.
Quite appropriately, talking is a theme found in other songs, not just in the title-track. In the album’s penultimate song “State Line” (my personal favorite, though “Riverside” is a close second), Lynch dwells on two kinds of talk that are ultimately empty. “Radio talk,” he sings, “is just a bunch of talk,” and a woman, who’s “always talking about things she wants,” feeds him that all-too-common, syrupy lie, “I love you,” which he has ceased to believe. “State Line” has the tenor of a story. But Lynch informed me that the only song that tells a story is “Riverside.” He then stated that he is “a songwriter at heart,” implying that he is not a storyteller.
Yet in “State Line,” Lynch narrates very particular moments: a woman resting on the floor, sunlight filtering through a window, the singer getting up from bed to pull on “yesterday’s shirt” before driving away, presumably to head for the state line. These details are so poignant that they impart that feeling of trespassing you get sometimes while reading a first-person narration that discloses the sacred privacy of longtime, intimate lovers, whose relationship is faltering despite a mutual effort to keep it together.
Where “State Line” feels almost too personal for an outside listener, “Riverside” feels festive and thus public. A progression of guitar chords, down-strummed steadily, drives the song along in a way that makes me want to grab a 12-pack of Lonestar and head to the beach or the river with a car full of friends. “Riverside” is a day of fun that spills over into a night of fun. Small effects from the keyboards twinkle and fizzle here and there like sparklers burning out in the hands of children. To add a bit of mirth to my domestic life, I played “Riverside” on loop while washing dishes the other day, and what strikes me about the song is how quickly it passes compared to other songs. Every. Single. Time. But the track falls between the four-to-five-minute mark, like four other songs on the album. “Riverside” just hooks you into its good-timey mood.
If you want in on the fun, the intimacy, and everything in between, you should go see Vodi at Rockfellers on November 4, with Astragal and El Lago, who will also be releasing their debut full-length Colors. Talk, unlike people who break your spirit, is well worth listening to.