Ambition is tricky—too little leads to predictability, too much boosts the chance of failure. Artists can end up spending their entire careers trying to establish that delicate balance, but in the rare case of Valley Hush, it comes completely naturally. They frequently flirt with experimentation, but they are a pop band to their core. Their song structures aren’t conventional, but they manage to craft irresistible earworms.
Comprised of singer Lianna Vanicelli and instrumentalist Alex Kaye, Valley Hush have spent the last year and a half writing and recording their self-titled record at Assemble Sound. The church was in shambles when the duo arrived, rooms packed with decades-old clutter and unfit for recording much of anything. Working alongside their fellow artists in residency, Valley Hush played a key role in renovating and establishing the foundation of Assemble as a legitimate recording facility.
The introductory “Rise/Intro” features a charming excerpt from spiritual poet Ron Rattner’s Silly Sutras: “Past is history, future’s mystery!” Rattner’s exclamations are whimsical in execution, yet they manage to set the tone for what’s to come.
From the opening pulsation of the kick drum to the climactic final key, “Concepts” is the beating heart of the album. This mighty track captures everything that Valley Hush stand for as a creative force. Kaye has engineered his own ecosystem of sound; this is some of the most organic production on any album since Zaba by Glass Animals a couple years back. Vanicelli commands the track with her dynamic vocal delivery, addressing the theme of personal empowerment most prominently. “In this instant/You are nature/Ever-changing/Infinite,” she sings, divulging this information in a light whisper. This is a direct appeal to the most basic human instinct of independence.
False wants and devastating desires are dissected on the lively “Iced Cream.” Vanicelli denounces salary jobs, handsome lovers, material things, and everything else society says is necessary to live a good life. While these can make life easier for some, no one should be brainwashed to think they can’t live happily without them. Similarly, ice cream is considered harmless on the surface, but sugar consumption has become a real problem resulting in widespread health complications (and possibly addictions). The duo bounce back and forth between placid and chaotic states on this track, summoning roaring horns and aggressive beats along the way.
Valley Hush have made great strides from their first two EPs, To Feel Small and Don’t Wait. Released in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the records complement each other as a distinctive era for the band. Vanicelli and Kaye can one day look back to slow-groove of tracks like “The River” and “Waves” and fondly reflect on their humble beginnings.
Vanicelli harkens back to her Filipino roots on “Lola,” the title literally translating to “grandmother” in Tagalog (for whom the song was written). Vanicelli tells the tale of how her grandmother’s life was forever changed when Japanese troops invaded the Commonwealth of the Philippines and stationed in her village during World War II. One of the Japanese generals began to court her, prompting her parents to plan an escape. To avoid the general’s advances, she was hastily married to her boyfriend, bore children, and fled for the mountains with her family.
The stakes in a situation like this are severe. Kaye crafts a turbulent soundscape that allows “Lola” to move with such urgency. “Run with your right forward,” Vanicelli urges. Her grandparents were eventually caught by the Japanese and brought back to the village. The troops saw their infant children, the most innocent bystanders amidst the global conflict, and ultimately made the decision to spare their lives.
“Summer on Mars” isn’t so much about the Red Planet, but its icy, desolate surface serves as the ideal setting for the isolation this song emulates. Falling in love with someone who comes and goes can make your home feel like an alien world. Further on “Amazon,” Vanicelli expounds on the most intimate memories of the aforementioned relationship. These ruminations of past romances are told from vastly different perspectives.
Following the frenzy of “Dispassion,” the album tone is dialed back on the brooding lead single “Iris.” Gloom and sorrow cloud the track for most of its duration, but resounding guitar licks from the chorus cut straight through the fog. That duality is a metaphor for the way our perspectives can change so suddenly. Life has its ups and downs, but above all else, perception is what shapes your reality.
Kaye’s manipulation of the acoustics in the church is brilliant, but nowhere is it more prominent than on “Sedimentary.” Its bustling beat glides along with great ease as Vanicelli sifts through the many layers of sound with her voice. “We were kissing at the brink of a natural disaster/Is this what it takes to feel anything anymore?” Posed after the album’s romantic arc, this question carries substantially more weight. Love cannot exist without emotion—feelings should be embraced, not buried.
The album addresses a vast assortment of topics in its 40-minute runtime, yet it isn’t exclusively about emotion, or anxiety, or addiction, or peril. Valley Hush is an immersive reality, tailored for a heightened state of human existence. On “Concepts,” the birds that call out are a manifestation of freedom. It only seems appropriate that the opening chimes of that song are revisited on “Flight/Outro.” At this point, Valley Hush are finally ready to spread their wings, leave the nest, and take flight.