Often, the best albums are the ones that throw listeners for a loop, keeping them on their toes and taking them on a journey to places they might not have expected from the start.
Of course, there can be a fine line between crafting complex, intricate soundscapes and spoiling a release with misguided add-ons. Thankfully, Vonna Pearl sets a gold standard for itself on its self-titled debut LP released Jan. 12.
The album can be streamed on Spotify. Physical CD copies can be purchased at Vonna Pearl shows.
The Oklahoma City indie folk-rock quintet features a superbly talented lineup with vocalists Chelsey Cope (known for her work in the local band Elms and recently released solo debut Where Nobody Goes) and Taylor Johnson (Wurly Birds), guitarist Chavez Oliz, bassist Taylor Overholser, trumpeter Garrison Brown, saxophonist Adam Ray and drummer Billy Reid.
Right off the bat, it should be clear to listeners that they are tuned in to one of 2018’s best local albums so far. The opener, “Arvada,” starts the album off with inviting horns and a sweet rhythm. The tune carries a lifting warmth that sets an immediate hook.
Cope and Johnson almost always sing in synchronized duet, and to great effect. Whether intentional or intrinsic, the singers seem to alternate between foreground and background depending on the song. Either way, it brings a nice layer of vocal variance to the project.
“Alone” is one of those songs that starts soft and steadily builds to a captivating mesh of noise. It’s great that the band lets this song breathe and take a life of its own. One of Vonna Pearl’s most intriguing dimensions is the inclusion of saxophone and other horn instruments on several songs, and that brass chorus shines brightest here.
Other standout moments include the harmonies and lyrical intrigue of “Don’t Leave Me” and “Marigolds,” a love song with loads of sunny cheer.
One gem that should not be overlooked is relatively brief “People,” which plays like a pretty, poetic interlude. Slow-playing violin brings a moment of solemnity to the album.
The tracklist ends on a softer note as well. Cope’s vocals shine over a delicate, acoustic backdrop found on “Come with Me,” which ends with an infectious refrain. “South Side of the Sky” offers a fitting end with its hopeful lyrical tone.
Proper debuts don’t often come as sharp as Vonna Pearl’s effort. There is an eclectic mix of sounds in the tracklist, yet every piece seems to gel with the whole so well.
If there is a critique to be made of the album, it’s that moments of instrumental freedom and experimentation occasionally teeter toward self-indulgence. Take “Alone” and its near 7-minute runtime. Most of the song is phenomenal, hitting a great stride in its groove near the middle. But the last minute curiously strays to soft static with spacey bleeps and bloops that take the listener on a short detour from the momentum of the album.
But still, the band’s willingness to ride out and build off a riff or melody while fitting in some unexpected sounds is exactly what makes the debut so stellar. It would be a grave mistake if they veered far from that model. What some call miscues could easily be chalked up to a difference in taste.
Hopefully Vonna Pearl has a lot more music in store for fans in the future. There is little doubt that they are off to an impressive start.
Print headline: Precious pearl; OKC-based Vonna Pearl gets inventive on its thrilling self-titled debut